The Importer Self-Assessment (ISA) program is a voluntary approach to trade compliance that gives importers an opportunity to monitor their own Customs compliance in exchange for certain benefits. This program creates partnerships between CBP and participating importers with the unified goal of maintaining a high level of trade compliance. In order to participate in the ISA program, an importer must:
- Be a Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) member;
- Complete an ISA Memorandum of Understanding; and
- Complete an ISA questionnaire.
To encourage participation in ISA, substantial benefits are granted to its members without requiring them to undertake any significant new burdens in addition to the required compliance with laws and regulations governing international trade. ISA participants must establish, document and implement an internal control system that demonstrates the importer’s commitment to accuracy in its customs transactions. Once CBP is satisfied with the importer’s commitment, ISA participation eliminates the need for intense oversight by CBP.
To ensure ongoing accountability, the ISA participant must conduct periodic self-assessments of its customs transactions. The ISA importer must maintain certain records and annual assessment results for a five-year period in order to establish a sufficient audit trail for CBP. If errors are discovered, the importer is obligated to inform CBP through appropriate disclosures. Finally, an annual written notification must be submitted to CBP, confirming the importer’s continued eligibility to participate in the ISA program.
One important benefit granted to participating members is temporary exemption from penalties while their ISA application is pending. Once in the program, the ISA importer is no longer subjected to Focused Assessment audits, or other invasive and time-consuming compliance audits in areas such as Drawback and Foreign Trade Zone activities. Although CBP are still able to conduct an onsite examination for a specific reason, the scope of this investigation will be limited. Another benefit is the treatment of penalties for violations that do not involve customs fraud. ISA members who discover that they have made errors in the course of the import activities through negligence, or gross negligence are not penalized for such errors, provided that they are brought to the attention of CBP through prior disclosures or CBP post-entry procedures.
In the event that CBP becomes aware of any action taken by the ISA importer which could rise to the level of fraud, CBP will provide written notice of the errors to the ISA participant. The importer will then have 30 days from the date of the notification to review the alleged errors and, if necessary, file a disclosure. Civil penalties or liquidated damages may be assessed against an importer due to fraud; however, participation in ISA is considered a mitigating factor.
In addition to the benefits mentioned above, CBP will also provide liaison personnel for consultation and/or guidance as requested. CBP promises ISA participants that the officials who provide guidance will work with the company, and not against it, to make certain its compliance systems are effective. Other benefits to the importer include entitlement to receive entry summary trade data, including analysis support, and additional incentives tailored to the importer’s specific needs. Aside from the benefits offered by CBP, the establishment and maintenance of the internal controls required of ISA importers will allow the importer to enjoy greater business certainty with respect to its Customs-related transactions.