More than 100 U.S. fresh produce importers and transportation professionals have expressed opposition to a U.S. Department of Agriculture proposal that would add new fees and increase current ones for inspection and quarantine services.
The USDA said quarantine and inspection fees haven’t been increased since fiscal year 2010 and the current cost is not covered by current fees. Comments on the proposal were originally due June 24, but the USDA said the comment deadline was extended to July 24.
The USDA proposed increasing fees from $496 to $825 for a commercial cargo vessel, from $70.75 to $224 for a commercial aircraft, and from $5.25 to $8 for commercial trucks. For commercial trucks with transponders, the annual user fee cap will increase from $105 to $320. Fees for commercial cargo vessels will increase from $496 to $825 per call. The USDA also proposed adding a new $375 fee to oversee and monitor quarantine treatments for imported fresh fruits and vegetables. The agency also proposed lowering the quarantine and inspection fees for commercial rail cargo from $7.75 to $2 per car, but the proposal removed fee maximums for cargo vessels and cargo railcars.
User fees are cost-based and depend on the volume of inspections and the quarantine and inspection services performed, according to the proposal.
With the fee increases, revenue for the quarantine and inspection service would increase from about $573 million to about $700 million. That would erase the current deficit of $54 million and add $25 million to help restore the reserve fund.
In comments posted on the regulations.gov website, Greg Smith, chief executive officer of Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals, said jobs will be lost if user fees are raised as outlined in the proposal.
“The proposed first-ever fumigation fee of $375 would have a severe economic impact on the importation of commodities,” he said. Smith also said the fee may be perceived as a barrier to trade or invite other countries to impose similar fees on U.S. exports.
A comment submitted by William H. Kopke Jr. Inc., Great Neck, N.Y., said the proposed rule would increase the cost of importing grapes by $375 per container, passing along higher costs to consumers.
Urging the agency to withdraw the proposal, Ronald Gill, operations manager for Bengard Marketing Inc., said the $375 fumigation fee will lead to higher operating costs and less opportunity.
“It is becoming more difficult to source products from overseas exporters due to greater regulations and yearly cost increases the produce industry already deals with. Adding another import fee will only persuade more exporters to direct their produce elsewhere to other foreign markets where the sales returns are better due to less expenses and a more favorable currency exchange rate,” Gill said in his comment.
Crowley Maritime Corp., Jacksonville, Fla., said in a comment that removal of the cargo vessel fee cap would have big cost implications. The new rules remove the 15 port of call fee maximum and raises the user fee by 70%.
“The increase from the current fees to the proposed fees for our company alone represents an increase of 591%,” Alan Twaits, chief counsel for Crowley Maritime, said in the comment.