As the comment period on the USDA's proposal to raise user fees for agricultural quarantine and inspection services ended July 24, the agency has now reported nearly 250 comments on the regulation. As you might guess, many are opposed to the magnitude of the fee increase. If this were a straight vote, the USDA proposal would lose.
While a revision of the AQI fees structure may be needed, the structure put forth for consideration includes a proposal that would be could be highly detrimental to many of United Fresh’s members.
Currently, there is no fee charged for treatments such as fumigation, cold treatment, irradiation and heat treatment. Under the proposal, a new fee of $375 will be charged per treatment. That alone, is of course, a profound change, and among the changes in the overall proposal, the most dramatic.
Furthermore, AQI treatments are currently provided by private entities who then charge importers for these services. With the potential for private entities to impose charges in addition to the proposed $375, the burden on importers can become nearly untenable. Also, when importers incur costs from delays in the movement or inspection of product, coupled with the addition of a new fee, could also have a profound impact on the ability of business operators to remain viable.
These considerations do not seem to have been part of the agency’s calculus in determining the new proposed treatment fee. We urge the agencies to consider possible alternatives, such as some type of sliding scale based on utilization or risk; a graduated increase over the next 3 years; or an increase consistent with other proposed fee changes in this proposed rule. We believe these alternatives will aid in mitigating the impact on industry members who importer products
The FPAA understands that fees for AQI services have not been revised in 10 years; however, the FPAA has strong reservations about the drastic increases proposed so abruptly by APHIS.
Additionally, the FPAA has strong reservations about the potentially negative impact these sharp increases could have on individual businesses.
The FPAA strongly requests that APHIS delay implementation of the proposed increases until further coordination with the industry could aim to identify methods to phase-in any additional fees or to leverage existing fees and programs to mitigate large increases.
Some foreign countries may view the proposed fees under the AQI to be a non-tariff trade barrier. In such a light, they may impose retaliatory measures that negatively impact U.S. exports. The U.S., which continues to enjoy record agriculture exports, must consider the ramifications of such a steep increase in the fee schedule.
While there are many comments from industry operators and associations who voiced opposiiton to the rule, some have supported the proposed increase.
Joel Nelsen of California Citrus Mutual writes in that group's comments:
We have traveled to inspection locales at ports of entry and witnessed the thorough job conducted. We have helped develop training materials for invasive pests such as the Asian Citrus Psyllid. We have brought CBP and AQI/APHIS team members to the industry for enlightenment.
We have participated in press conferences and ports of entry “blitzes” that highlight the role of CBP and USDA personnel in the effort to protect production and the environment from invasive pests and diseases. CCM understands the value of having highly trained personnel on staff, of having a sustained team of employees doing the job necessary, and the importance of communicating the job and its results to appropriate audiences throughout America.
Having the resources to achieve the desired objective is extremely important and not having a fee increase in over a decade is hamstringing the Departments from doing the job assigned.That is unacceptable. Invasive pests cause the destruction of our forests, our food supply, our rural and our urban environment. By definition invasive pest and disease require the use of tools that create concern in the minds of the general public.
Eradication programs are far more costly to government and to the private sector because of quarantines and the requirements therein. As world trade increases, as world travel expands, and as foreign pests and diseases become a greater threat to the United States we must equip our defense program with adequate personnel and the tools necessary. Whether it is training more dogs, hiring more people, using more technology, or simply compensating team members appropriately the role of the AQI program is more important today than ever before.
We have reviewed the GAO, 2013 report on AQI costs and revenues. We believe the APHIS report/review conducted in 2010 was an accurate barometer of needs, goals and objectives along with the costs of achieving the desired outcome. Simply stated the job is bigger than ever and revenue is needed to do a bigger job.California Citrus Mutual supports the proposed rule to increase AQI user fees and urges a rapid implementation of same.
On an unrelated note, check out The Acheson Group's take on potential traceability requirements for retailers here
Jennifer McEntire of TAG states:
It is also interesting to note that retailers are exempt from current Bioterrorism Act recordkeeping requirements, and FSMA exempts them from any new recordkeeping requirements.
However, what a lot of people have overlooked, is that once FDA settles on and implements a traceability rule, the Agency is required to report back to Congress on the impact of the retail exemption. Even without the traceability rule in place, the impact of such exemptions already seems quite clear. In all likelihood, we see the publication of USDA’s proposed rule and the recent outbreak that demonstrates the difficulties related to epidemiological and traceback investigations as opening the door to possible traceability requirements at retail.