(Nov. 25) OTTAWA — Seemingly small paperwork problems are causing mountains of headaches for Canadian importers receiving U.S. produce that crosses the world’s largest unguarded border.

The Canadian government, through its Administrative Monetary Penalty System, threatens to penalize produce receivers who don’t have every every t crossed and every i dotted on import documents, produce importers say.

“It’s really risky for the industry. Every mistake, even one as innocent as misspelling your name, could get you a fine,” said Alain Pare, head buyer of produce for Metro-Richelieu Inc., Montreal, one of Canada’s largest retail chains.

FINES

Those fines can be high, ranging from several hundred dollars to $25,000, said Jane Proctor, director of industry technology and standardization for the Ottawa-based Canadian Produce Marketing Association.

“This has become very problematic for the produce sector,” Proctor said. “There’s a very complex system of penalties in place. It’s extremely difficult for the industry to deal with.”

The regulations, which took effect Oct. 7, provide three penalty tiers for repeat offenses and are cumulative within a company.

“If a document isn’t filled out correctly, a retailer importing produce into five provinces would see five infractions resulting in more penalties,” Proctor said.

The CPMA wants answers from the Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency, the organization enforcing increased importing detail.

Sobeys Canada Inc., Stellarton, Nova Scotia, the country’s second-largest retailer, has requested a Canadian customs ruling on reporting pallets, said Jim Gordon, Sobeys’ director of produce operations.

“We’re still not sure what our responsibilities are in reporting pallets on shipments,” he said.

“Quite frankly, there has been some headaches in convincing the vendor community that we need to do these things, but they have responded, and we feel we’re there.”

Sobeys hired four customs coordinators to ensure import compliance and is in the process of hiring a customs manager and an analyst.

“It did take some expense to put the coordinators in place,” Gordon said. “We’ve added at least six bodies to look after customs.”

CONFUSING AND BURDENSOME

Metro-Richelieu has found the rules confusing and burdensome.

“With the added paperwork, we have had to make a ton of changes,” Pare said. “Unfortunately, we have had to put in extra hours to do that. The penalties could be very expensive.”

CPMA officials say they’re concerned about regional differences in documentation enforcement.

“There can be very apparent problems at the border,” Proctor said. “We really need to figure out an appropriate mechanism for answering these questions.”

CPMA has issued 10 bulletins to its members on the rule changes. The organization has joined a coalition of nonproduce importing associations that plans to seek definitive answers from Canadian customs.

Canadian customs has stated the tight rules were implemented to provide the Canadian government more accurate data for trade policy formulation.