Customs officers show off Savannah lab’s forensic muscle

Trade Day tour features walk through facilities used to determine whether goods meet import tariff, duty specifications

From alligator shoes to copper pipes, the scientists at the Savannah Customs and Border Protection Laboratory know imported items better than most.

 

CBP opened its doors to local and national partners on Tuesday for a tour of the inner machinations of the facility as a part of their Trade Day event.

The Trade Day tour featured a walk through the various testing facilities that CBP scientists use to determine whether the goods imported at ports from Philadelphia to Key West meet the import tariff and duty specifications set by Congress, as well as protect against potentially harmful items coming in through the ports — from lead paint to weapons of mass destruction.

“We brought some of our partner government agencies to talk about their role in the process, as well as give Port Authority brokers and industry partners the opportunity to meet some new partners and thank them for the work they do,” CBP Area Port Director Lisa Brown said.

Brown said keeping in touch with the regulatory partners is paramount to CBP’s operations, and events like Trade Day allow them to stay connected.

The Savannah laboratory is one of the eight CPB labs in their Laboratories and Scientific Services Directorate. Savannah’s is a full-service analytical laboratory with capabilities for chemical and physical testing of all types of commodities, narcotics and other controlled substances. The lab is staffed by 30 chemists, who work to validate the authenticity of imports.

“You need these opportunities to get together, to reconnect with the partners, and learn a little bit more. Everybody is developing new capabilities, new platforms and new technology,” Brown said. “How can we continue to work together to make sure that things come into the United States that need to come in, but we keep the things out that are going to be unsafe or harm us?”

Stephen Dubose works to do just that. He tests stones and metals imported into the country at the Savannah lab, which range from coat hangers to suspension bridge support bolts.

For the tour groups on Tuesday, he used granite as an example of the scrutinous testing and classification done on site by him and his team.

“For customs, we have to differentiate, even though the trade industry doesn’t,” Dubose said. “If it’s a granite countertop, it can be all natural stone, and it can be marketed as such. But according to us, it has to have certain properties to be considered actual granite.”

And that comes with duty implications. True granite has a lower duty cost than other stone that can be sold as granite. Importers may try to pass off non-granite stones as true granite for a lower import tax, which is where the lab comes in.

“We might look at it and say, ‘Looks like granite to me.’ But in order for us to do our job and make sure trade laws are being obeyed, and people are paying the right amount of money, we have to rely on the experts or the scientists,” Brown said.

While the lab is capable of testing many items, it does have a few specialties. Its textile and apparel analyses laboratory is designated as the CBP testing facility for wool, which includes determining the wool’s content and grade.

The lab is also capable of solving country-of-origin issues, and has developed a method of identifying trace element profiles for many agricultural products including garlic, peanuts, fruit juices and tobacco products.

The Savannah lab also provides specialized technical training to CBP officers and provides support to the agency’s International CBP Training program.

Keeping the ports and country safe from tariff violations and other dangers is a group effort, Brown said.

“This doesn’t happen unless we’re a community,” Brown said. “Nobody can do it by themselves, let alone be successful.”

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Sat, 11/18/2017 - 11:21pm

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