Read these tips from our two experts on international trade: Erandi Motte Cortés, Director of Market and Entrepreneurship Development for the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, and Garry Douglas, President and CEO of the North Country Chamber of Commerce of Plattsburgh.
Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM)– What should we take away from how American customs work with regard to Quebec exporters?
Garry Douglas (G.D.) – One fundamental thing: nearly everything can be easily exported if the information is clear and the groundwork is done. This means that businesses need to do their homework and rely on the advice of experts. The United States is the biggest international market for Quebec products and services. Understanding the formalities of customs is essential, because errors can be costly for the exporter – i.e. they can result in delivery delays, potential penalties or even systematic inspections.
Erandi Motte Cortés (E.M.C.) – Absolutely. And the biggest obstacle, for exporting businesses, is to really understand the documents needed for a customs declaration, like the commercial invoice that needs to be attached during loading or certain logistical and regulatory particularities required by NAFTA. To overcome this issue, we strongly encourage businesses to work with a customs broker, an expert who will deal with the border services directly. A broker is sometimes mandatory, for example, to clear goods with customs when the load is valued at more than USD2,000 or to clear all loads with controlled goods (goods requiring a Canadian or American permit or licence to cross the border) no matter their value.
G.D. – Even if you are already an active exporter to the U.S., as soon as you want to export something new or improved (if you have, for example, modified the ingredients in your recipe or changed the suppliers who contribute to the production of your product), you need to check your shipping plan with your customs broker.
CCMM – What’s one thing to look out for?
E.M.C. – Packaging and labelling. Businesses need to make sure they are up to standard, for example, by checking that the country of origin, product description and exact quantity being shipped are clearly indicated. Easily exporting products depends on this information being clear and complete.
CCMM – Sometimes, we hear terrible stories about visas being rejected and Canadian workers being unable to enter the U.S., penalizing the business. Do you have any advice regarding this?
E.M.C. – The key is to know what kind of visitor you’re going to be. To sort this out, businesses can consult this document by the North Country Chamber of Commerce of Plattsburgh: “Doing business in the U.S.”
Otherwise, the most common classifications are:
- B-1. Sales, set up, supervision, training or participation in meetings.
- TN. Renewable one-year work visa. Reserved for Canadian professionals (i.e. who possess a university degree that is recognized by a Canadian institution and that has an American equivalent).
- L-1. Employee transfer to a subsidiary or affiliate company.
- E-1/E-2. Traders and investors.
CCMM – What resources are there for businesses who want to know more about how customs and the American market work?
E.M.C. – Each year, we organize several trade missions to customs with the North Country Chamber of Commerce. Businesses that are launching their exportation projects or that have difficulties in this area will find these missions helpful. They aim to facilitate the work of businesses exporting their products and services and that of customs officers.
G.D. – The workshops that we organize cover all aspects of how customs work in order to avoid any pitfalls that can hinder trade between our countries. We review the process so that businesses can understand incorporations, intra-business finances across the border, tax implications, customs clearance, visas, banking, employment, etc. For an organization, maximizing the success of its exports depends on having a general view of all its components so that the process can happen smoothly.