How are entrepreneurs involved in global trade faring during a time when everything from airline travel to shipping is moving half as quickly as normal? Surprisingly, the folks at ê Shave Inc., an upscale purveyor of shaving products and accessories to boutiques and department stores in the United States and Europe, and Eziba, a North Adams, Massachusetts, e-commerce company that sells handmade objects from artisans worldwide, report no extraordinary problems with shipping in the months since last September's terrorist attacks.
George Weise, vice president of global trade and compliance at Vastera, a Dulles, Virginia, provider of e-business solutions for global trade management and former commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service, is extremely surprised. "It is not business as usual at the ports of entry, nor do I expect it to be for quite some time," he says. We're telling clients to expect more scrutiny of goods, stricter enforcement of laws and more unpredictability." (This especially applies to chemical, biological and high-tech companies.) If Weise's predictions are correct, don't expect a complete retrenching, but rather "a new paradigm in global trade" where U.S. Customs refocuses its resources to actively watch for terrorists and articles of terrorism, resulting in significant delays.
So far, the only delays in shipping Danielle Malka, founder and president of ê Shave, has experienced came immediately following September 11. International clients such as Le Printemps in Paris and Harrods in London make up about 25 percent of ê Shave's business. "It took a good three to four weeks before we started getting back into placing and shipping orders," says Malka, 40. Since then, one holiday shipment getting on the plane two days late has been the only cause for concern.
Business is flowing similarly for Eziba, says vice president of business development John Voelcker. "As the ports began to be unfrozen, it was unclear what the prospects for the fall would be, but things have gotten back, if not to normal, then to the point where the goods are coming in," he says. "Everything is slower, but importing is always a slightly random business."
Along with greater unpredictability, Weise says to expect harsher penalties for violating import/export regulations. That means you must either be committed to doing due diligence, or invest in software or consulting services like those Vastera provides. "Investing in processes and technology shows customs you're a partner with them," says Weise. "The more you do to get information about your transaction into the hands of customs sooner rather than later so they can do risk assessment, the better off you'll be."