By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT

The National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America is moving forward with an ambitious initiative aimed at offering certification opportunities for qualified licensed customs brokers, to soon be joined by a similar program for freight forwarders.

‘This is a very bold move on the part of the association,’ Federico ‘Kiko’ Garcia, outgoing president of NCBFAA, said of the program at the trade group’s 32nd annual conference, held April 23-27 at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa on South Florida’s Hollywood Beach.

‘I think our industry wants to be viewed as a professional industry, and the only way to do that is through education,’ said Garcia, who is treasurer of Laredo, TX-based F. Zuniga Inc. ‘The purpose of the program is to make sure we continue to elevate the volume of our knowledge.’

Indeed, the focus of the five-day conference, themed ‘A Commitment to Excellence: Certifying Our Future,’ was on enhancing professionalism of trade facilitators. The program included numerous educationally oriented sessions, plus demonstration of ocean carriers’ Web portals, and concluded with a full day of practical workshops.

Garcia, who has been a prime catalyst for the certification initiative, said the NCBFAA program is patterned after a similar effort that already has proven successful in Canada.

Beginning in 2007, the Certified Customs Specialist (CCS) program will include a continuing education requirement for maintaining certification status. A Certified Transportation Specialist (CTS) program, to be launched in September or October of 2007, will offer similar certifications for freight forwarders.

‘This really does teach you the industry, not just how to take a test,’ said John F. Peterson of the Rancho Dominguez, CA office of Westwood, MA-based C.H. Powell Co. Peterson serves as vice chairman of the NCBFAA Customs Committee.

At the heart of the initiative is a 12-month distance-learning program, available in hard copy and electronically, that offers a detailed review of steps involved in US Customs clearance transactions plus studies of the complexities involved with importation of goods.

‘We’re psyched about it,’ said barbara reilly, executive vice president of the Washington-based association.

The 1,640 licensed brokers who already have passed the difficult US Customs licensure examination have been ‘grandfathered’ in as CCS designees, while 211 US customs brokers are enrolled in the first year of the program. CCS designees are not required to have a broker license but must have completed a minimum of one year of practical work experience in conducting business to comply with US Customs & Border Protection regulations. Those grandfathered are not exempted from continuing education requirements.

The continuing requirement calls for completion of 20 points per year of qualifying professional development activities. That requirement may be met by active participation in the NCBFAA’s annual conference to earn the full 20 points or, in future years, through passing a series of three online tests or successful completion of a combination of various other approved course work. An annual fee of $95 has been set, with initial CCS program enrollment costing $600 for NCBFAA members or $1,200 for nonmembers.

NCBFAA plans to hire a fulltime education director in the near future. Duties are to include administering the CCS and CTS programs.

Confirming the association’s emphasis on education, Schaumburg, IL-based insurance firm Roanoke Trade Services Inc. awarded a $5,000 scholarship to Patrick T. Kerner, a student at Villanova University College of Commerce and Finance. Kerner, whose father, Bart Kerner, works for John F. Kilroy Co. Inc. in Rosedale, NY, wrote a winning essay entitled, ‘The US Trade Deficit with China ’ Pros and Cons for US Businesses and Consumers.’ Understanding trade trends and regulatory revisions is essential for trade facilitators.

Attendees of the annual conference were advised that program materials will be updated