How to Speed Your Exports Through Customs

Do your export paperwork right and your goods will be on their way to foreign customers; do it wrong and you may be in trouble

Written by Paul Gallant

Importers have it easy. They can rely on hired brokers to manage their relationship with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). But exporters are usually on their own. Export paperwork, though simpler, is not without its pitfalls.

With imports, government is mostly concerned with taxes, duties, safety and security. With exports, it’s about managing strategic, dangerous, controlled or otherwise regulated goods, and ensuring that goods leaving Canada meet the requirements of international laws and agreements, like sanctions. Further, government agencies such as Industry Canada and Statistics Canada use the data to provide Canadian businesses with information about the international marketplace.

First off, figure out if you’re actually the exporter is in a particular deal. It’s trickier than it seems. At it’s simplest, you’re an exporter if you physically send commercial goods abroad (note, this doesn’t mean the commercial carrier handling the goods—they have their own paperwork to complete). But it’s important to understand that even if you directly send goods abroad you may not be an exporter. A foreigner could, in government parlance, “cause them to be exported.” For example, if your company sells unrestricted goods to a U.S. company, and the U.S. company ships the goods directly from Canada to a third country, the U.S. company is the exporter. Regardless of where it’s based, the exporter must obtain a 15-digit Canadian business number from Canada Revenue Agency. The holder of that business number is ultimately responsible for all export reporting.

Canadian exporters can make export declarations through four different channels:

  • The Canadian Automated Export Declaration (CAED), launched in 1998, provides fast electronic reporting through a free computer application. If you’re exporting controlled, prohibited or regulated goods destined for consumption outside the U.S. market, you must also submit a printed copy. Controlled goods include a range of items that may include agriculture products, peanut butter, firearms, military and strategic goods and technology, logs, softwood lumber, steel, textiles and clothing.
  • G7 Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) Export Reporting can be used to document transactions between G7 countries (Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Germany and the United States). You have to pay to use this system, but because the data is standardized, the importer or agent can re-use the information to meet the requirements of the importing country. Like with CAED, you have to file a printed copy of the declaration if you’re exporting controlled, prohibited or regulated goods.
  • Form B13A, Export Declaration is the paper method for reporting exports. Since 2012, the Canadian government has been trying to phase out this form in favour of more efficient electronic reporting.
  • Summary Reporting, filed monthly, after the goods have shipped, is reserved for regular exporters of low-risk, bulk goods who have obtained written authorization from CBSA.

You must provide permits, certificates, licences and any other documents required by any government department if your goods are controlled, regulated or prohibited. You’re responsible for finding out if your goods fit into these restricted categories. Restrictions may apply to certain goods, such logs, and certain countries, such as North Korea.

Read: 8 Tips for Finding a Great Customs Broker

It’s much easier to export to the U.S. With a few exceptions—trains, restricted goods or goods valued at more than CAD$2,000—you don’t have to report exports for consumption in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, since the U.S. government provides its import data to the Canadian government.

Since 2012, reporting deadlines have been tightened—they want to know you’re coming before your goods are on their way. You must report exports by marine vessel or aircraft no less than 48 hours before the goods are loaded. If you’re exporting by rail, you have to file no less than two hours before the railcar containing the goods is assembled to form part of the train. The two-hour deadline also applies to goods being delivered to the post office. You have to report exports by any other mode of transportation “immediately prior to the exportation.” There are exceptions for live animals, perishable goods, bulk goods, homogeneous goods (goods that resemble each other and which are used for the same purpose) or time-sensitive goods—so long as they are not controlled, regulated or prohibited.

Carriers who have signed a memorandum of export with CBSA may ask you for proof of reporting, usually an authorization or ID number, before transporting your shipment. If you have to cancel a shipment that has already been reported, you must submit an amended declaration through one of the four reporting channels.

You’ll be expected to keep records for inspection for six years, including licences and other documents. If you and the importer are claiming preferential treatment under a free-trade agreement, you must also complete a certificate of origin for each good, forwarding a copy to the importer and keeping another on hand for CBSA inspection.

If you want more information, Exporting Goods From Canada: A Handy Guide for Exporters spells out what you have to do to comply with Canada’s Reporting of Exported Goods Regulations and avoid penalties for failing to file properly.

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