(Feb. 13) MONTREAL — The threat of massive fines for failure to provide accurate customs reporting has many Canadian produce importers worried, said Jane Proctor, director of industry technology and standardization for the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Ottawa.

The CPMA convention in Montreal featured a Feb. 8 session about Canada Customs and Revenue Agency’s Administrative Monetary Penalty System, which uses fines to encourage better reporting.

Preceded by a trial period that began in December 2001, the Canadian customs agency began assessing penalties for violations of the customs act on Oct. 7.

Officials from Canada Customs said there have been more than 5,300 violations of customs reporting requirements since Oct. 7, inclusive of all industries. Though not broken down by industry, Canada Customs officials said fresh fruits and vegetables are leading compliance priorities for the agency, along with textiles and vehicle parts.

Proctor said a top issue for Canadian importers is the conflict of rules of regions and provinces. Rules on how pallets are treated by Canada Customs — for example, should pallets be assigned a value or not? — are just one subset of problems.

“The Customs act does not give the national headquarters the regulatory authority to make a lot of rulings on a national basis,” she said.

The CPMA has created an AMPS working group that will meet Feb. 28, she said.

Some large Canadian importers could face fines of millions of dollars if they are found to have repeated violations, Proctor said.

For example, if a produce load comes into Canada with a different manifest than what was reported to Customs, an amended filing must be submitted to CCRA. However, the fluid nature of the produce business could mean frequent amended filings.

“One retailer has estimated they will have to file 500 amendments per week,” she said.

She said CPMA is lobbying the government to allow blanket amendments to customs filings, rather than an individual amendment for each load. She said one organization has hired nine people to address AMPS issues.

Proctor said Canadian importers are putting the onus on U.S. shippers to provide the correct customs data, and some are discussing designating U.S. suppliers the nonresident importer of record. That could mean U.S. suppliers would be responsible for any mistakes, including incurring penalties from CCRA.