EXPORTING ESSENTIALS: SELLING PRODUCTS AND SERVICES TO THE WORLD SUCCESSFULLY (2014)
Chapter 13. Documentation, Export Licensing, and Other Procedures
One day there will be no borders, no boundaries, no flags, and no countries and the only passport will be the heart.
—Attributed to Mexican-American musician Carlos Santana
In these past several chapters, I’ve walked you through the somewhat-complex process of getting your export shipment together with the help of your global freight forwarder. In this chapter, I’ll go over another set of painstaking but critical details—the preparation of shipping documentation to coincide with your transport and payment methods. I will also address the often anxiety-producing (but needlessly so!) issue of the exporter’s licensing responsibilities. Finally, I will provide a checklist for a final inspection of your documentation to make sure everything’s letter perfect.
The first step in preparing export documentation is to carefully list the shipping arrangements you have just made for your customer. You want your export sale to be a complete success, and this is a critical phase. The documentation for an export follows the same pattern as that for a domestic sale. When you sell your widgets to your customers across town, you invoice them, right? That’s where you start with your overseas customers as well. Where your local customer sometimes has special requirements for the order, such as a packing list or specified outside markings on each case shipped, your export transaction will have special documentation requirements, too. These will vary according to the country of destination and the type of goods shipped.
If you’ve selected a freight forwarder that has a history of shipping your type of product, the company should be right on the ball about the current documentation requirements and also offer you the option to process most if not all documentation online. Take the initiative, though, and ask a lot of questions. Use the company’s expertise to your advantage.
Nine times out of ten, you will need the following basic documents to complete an export sale:
1. A commercial invoice
2. A packing list
3. A certificate of origin (where applicable)
4. Three original ocean or air bills of lading and copies of them
5. A payment instrument
Other important documents required for some destinations and some commodities:
· A quality-inspection certificate
· A consular invoice
· An import or export license
· An insurance certificate
· Dock and warehouse receipts
· A health inspection certificate
· An IATA (International Air Transport Association) shipper’s certificate for restricted or dangerous products
I will review each document thoroughly so you will feel comfortable preparing it. Be aware, too, that there are software programs available that will execute your export documents online efficiently—Unz & Co. offers one (http://www.unzco.com/software/unzexpdoc.htm). As your business grows, you might consider installing one of these programs. Most freight forwarders provide these documents online as well. Whenever you need to review a document to see what it looks like, just conduct an online search to pull one up.
Tip The exports I talk about in this chapter are all ongoing, but that won’t always be the case. If you have temporary exports, say if you are exhibiting at a trade show (look back at Chapter 7) in a foreign market and need to send cases of product samples for display, you might consider getting a Carnet. A Carnet is an international customs and export document that is used to clear customs without the need to pay any duties and taxes on merchandise that will be used for trade shows and sales solicitations to prospects. You can learn more at Boomerang Carnets:http://www.atacarnet.com/.
A commercial invoice (for an example, see http://www.unzco.com/forms/commercialinvoices.htm) usually describes what you are exporting and references important transaction numbers. Your invoice must be prepared exactly as you and your customer agreed upon in your pro forma invoice. If both of you agreed on a change in the sale terms later on, record that change on your invoice. In addition, always include the following information, even if it isn’t asked for:
1. The customer-reference purchase order number for the pro forma invoice
2. The method of payment, including any and all reference numbers pertaining to it
3. The shipping terms from your price quotation (for example, cost and freight (CNF) Tokyo, free alongside ship (FAS) Seattle, free on board (FOB) New York)
4. The currency in which the transaction will be made (US dollars, Japanese yen, French francs, etc.)
5. The bill of lading number
6. The container number, if shipped by container
7. The ports of exit and entry
8. Marine or air transit instructions: the name of vessel or aircraft, voyage or airway bill number, date of departure, and date of arrival at destination
A packing list (for an example, see http://www.unzco.com/forms/packing_envelopes.htm#packinglist) is used to inform transportation companies about what they are moving as well as to allow the customer and others involved in the transaction to check what has been shipped against the pro forma invoice. It’s a good safeguard against shipping incorrect cargo! To prepare your packing list, delete all the prices on the invoice and double-check to see that the number of cases; weight (net, gross, metric); and measurements appear on the invoice. Then rename the document “Packing list,” and write it in big, bold letters, and you’re all set. Your freight forwarder, bank, and customer should indicate how many copies they will need and where each copy will need to be attached (outside of each shipping container in a waterproof envelope, for one) and distributed to the appropriate parties to the transaction (along with your other original documents in line with the terms and condition of the sale), some weeks in advance of when the shipment takes place. I always make three to four extra copies for my file just in case.
Certificate of Origin
Not all export shipments require a separate certificate of origin (for an example, see http://www.unzco.com/forms/certoforigin.htm#General). Often, merely stating the country of origin on your commercial invoice is sufficient. When a certificate is required, it’s usually because the country to which you are exporting allows some preferential treatment for shipments like yours, such as a lower duty rate under a trade agreement with the United States, which must be detailed in a separate document. (For example, Mexico, Israel, and Canada have preferential arrangements with the United States if a shipment is intended to be duty-free.) The certificate also protects customers from unknowingly bringing in goods from countries with which trade is prohibited by embargoes, cartels, or other political or economic factors.
Composing the document is utterly simple. Just type up your own sample form for the certificate claiming that your goods are of a certain origin. It would look like this:
· We hereby certify that the goods reflected in our Invoice No. ________ dated _______ were produced and manufactured in the United States of America on _________, 20__.
· XYZ Export Co.
· Ms. Betsy MacDonald, President
Bear in mind that there are two components to determining the country of origin: (1) the goods must be shipped from that country, and (2) a substantial percentage1 of the value of the product must be added in that country.
Your customer might request that you have this document certified by your local Chamber of Commerce. To have this done, send the Chamber your prepared certificate along with a letter requesting the certification and three copies of your commercial invoice. The Chamber will take the statement that you provide, retype it verbatim on Chamber letterhead and certify it with notary seal and signature. Most Chambers charge a flat fee ranging from $15 to $25 for this certification. Be sure to read the fine lines of your customer’s terms and conditions to determine whether or not you need to have this done. Turnaround time can be as short as twenty-four hours, but you may want to call in advance if you are setting up a shipment in a hurry.
NAFTA Certificate of Origin
Check with your carrier to find out if your product qualifies for a reduction or elimination of duty under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). For information regarding eligibility, contact your local US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office (http://www.cbp.gov/). If it qualifies, the NAFTA Certificate of Origin form (for an example, see http://www.unzco.com/forms/certoforigin.htm#CBP434) should be used to receive the benefits of reduced duty, which will be passed along to your customer. Sample forms can be found at the CBP site (http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/trade/trade_programs/international_agreements/free_trade/nafta/resources/nafta_forms_lp.xml).
Tip Transactions valued less than $2,500 do not require the NAFTA Certificate of Origin, but you will still be required to make a statement on your commercial invoice to the effect of: “I certify that the goods referenced in this invoice comply with the origin requirements specified for these goods in the North American Free Trade Agreement, and that further processing or assembly outside the territories of the parties has not occurred subsequent to processing or assembly in the NAFTA region.” If you do regular shipments of the same group of commodities to the same destination over the course of the year, you can ask your freight forwarder or transport specialist if you can complete a blanket NAFTA Certificate of Origin so as not to have to complete the form for each and every shipment. My theory is, whenever you find something is a royal pain in the #%@, ask how to simplify the process!
Bills of Lading
Depending upon how fast you want to get cargo to your customer and how much she is willing to spend, you will either ship by ocean or by air. Accordingly, there are two types of bills of lading, the ocean bill of lading (for an example, seehttp://www.unzco.com/forms/ocean.htm) and the airway bill (see http://www.ups.com/aircargo/using/services/supplies/airwaybill.html).
An ocean bill of lading serves both as a receipt for the cargo and as a contract for transportation between you, the exporter, and the carrier. It also symbolizes ownership; accordingly, if it is in negotiable form, it can be bought, sold, or traded while the goods are in transit.
When you use air freight, an airway bill is issued in lieu of a bill of lading. It serves as a through bill of lading, which covers domestic and international flights moving cargo to a specific destination. Your air transportation carrier will advise you of the house airway bill number (shipper’s document of receipt) and the master airway bill number (freight forwarder’s document of receipt) assigned to your shipment. You must be sure to communicate these to your customer along with other transportation details. Airway bills of lading serve functions similar to those of ocean bills, but they are only issued in nonnegotiable form. This means that you and your bank have less protection because you lose title to the goods once shipment commences. Be sure to refer back to Chapter 9 if you are shipping hazardous goods. Special forms are required.
I will describe ocean bills of lading in further detail because ocean freight is the most economical—and therefore the most frequently used—method of export shipment. To have one made up, you must prepare and submit a Shipper’s Letter of Instructions form to your freight forwarder so that it can issue it accurately. This form indicates if the transaction is being made against a letter of credit (L/C), whether insurance is required, where to send documents, and so forth. Once you’ve finalized terms of payment with your customer, you need to furnish these facts to your freight forwarder. Most bills of lading are issued with three originals and several copies.
There are numerous different types of ocean bills of lading, but you will find that the following are the most commonly used:
· Straight (nonnegotiable): This type of bill of lading provides for delivery to the person whose name appears on it. It must be marked “Nonnegotiable.” Only the person named can claim the goods upon arrival. A straight bill of lading is usually used for goods shipped on an open-account payment basis in cases where the exporter is not concerned about the importer receiving the goods without payment.
· Shipper’s order (negotiable): This type of bill is used when you want to impose conditions on the delivery of the goods, such as requiring an acceptance of a draft. This type works well when payment has been secured by a L/C because you can make sure that the terms of the letter of credit are met before the goods are released.
· Clean: This type of bill is issued when the shipment is received in good order. If there is any damage or a shortage of product is found, a clean bill of lading will not be issued.
· Onboard: This type is issued when the cargo has been placed aboard the named vessel. It is signed and certified by the master of the vessel. For a L/C transaction, an onboard bill of lading is required in order for you, the exporter, to get paid.
Most of my customers ask for a shipper’s order bill of lading, which authorizes their bank to take title of the goods should they default on payment. The bank does not release title of the goods to the buyer until payment is received. The bank will also not release these funds to you, the exporter, until all conditions of the sale have been fulfilled at your end.
As I discussed in Chapter 11, getting paid is an essential part of the export transaction. Numerous criteria are applied by businesses when determining which payment instrument to offer as a term of sale. A payment instrument in this case refers to documentary collections such as a sight or time draft, which is widely used in international trade. A documentary collection is the collection by a bank of funds due from a buyer against the delivery of specific documents relating to an export sale. The seller (exporter) sends a draft or other demand for payment with the related shipping documents to the buyer’s bank. Compared to open account sales, the documentary collection offers more security to the seller (exporter), but less than a letter of credit.
Other Important Documents
Over the years, I have found that the following documents have also been required from time to time. This is not a complete listing, but it will give you an idea of what to expect in the way of special documentation requirements. Note: I am providing a more comprehensive approach to the Import and Export License section to resolve any potential confusion or questions you might have on this topic.
When shipping high-value products or when you are dealing with a very conscientious customer, an inspection certificate might be requested. An inspection certificate provides proof that what you are shipping is, in fact, what the customer ordered and is also of good quality. If a customer requests this document, agree to it—but see that he covers the administrative and inspection fees. Also, ask him to recommend an independent inspection agency to perform the review at your end. If he doesn’t have one, ask your export resource bank for a suitable contact.
Tip I once had a customer in Tokyo who asked to have an inspection of his goods done prior to their leaving the factory in Chicago. He requested that his close friend, living in Chicago, conduct the inspection. When the goods were ready for dispatch, my customer’s friend arrived at the plant and opened a few cartons here and there to ensure that we were not shipping inferior merchandise. Then, she eyeballed all the cartons to see that they were marked on the outside in the way her friend had requested. Finding everything in order, she signed the inspection certificate and copies we had prepared in advance. In this case, the inspection didn’t cost the customer a cent, everything was certified as A-OK, and we were all happy!
A few countries still require consular invoices, which are special forms that must be legalized by a consulate of the country to which you are exporting. This procedure prevents under- or overpricing and also helps the consulates pull in a little extra revenue.
Import and Export Licenses
Recently, I received an e-mail from a woman who works at a small manufacturing company. She explained that her company had recently exhibited at a jewelry show in the United States and a German man had expressed interest in a product at her booth. He had said he would buy ten thousand of her pierced-earring backings if she could ship to the port of Hamburg within sixty days. He had a big fair coming up and knew he could preview the holders to his customers and garner much interest.
She was thinking through the details but was very apprehensive about getting involved in exporting because people had told her that it’s hard to get an exporting license. “What is this ‘license’?” she asked. I could tell by her message that this single issue was worrying her more than any other aspect of the export transaction requirements I’ve covered thus far. And, to tell you the truth, I didn’t have an answer for her, so I said I would check with the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and get back to her.
We all fear the unknown, and government bureaucracy is especially scary. Most of us don’t want to add more phases to a business process, like exporting, that’s already complex enough—especially ones that might slow the project down indefinitely. But don’t let an obstacle like this cause you to give up on a good overseas lead! You can find your way around export licensing with less trouble than you think. Let me show you how. As for the woman with the pierced-earring backing holders, it turns out she did not need a license.
First of all, don’t worry—just because you have to apply for a license does not mean that there is a possibility that your application will be automatically denied and you’ll be barred from exporting your shipment. The licensing process is undertaken for specific governmental purposes, primarily to monitor outbound shipping traffic. There are two types of export licenses: a general license (GL) and a validated license (VL). A general export license is a standing permission given by the government to export a certain category of products. Individual exporters do not need to apply for one. A validated export license, on the other hand, is assigned to a specific exporter for a specific product, either for a designated period of time or for a single transaction. Exporters should know that failure to comply with the regulations surrounding either type of license carries both civil and criminal penalties, so pay close attention.
Determining Which License You Need—General or Validated
The Bureau of Export Administration (BXA) maintains the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), which includes the “Commerce Control List” (CCL). The CCL includes items such as software, commodities, and technology, which are subject to the export licensing authority of the BXA. Once you know what you are exporting and where it is going, you can consult these materials to determine which export license you need and find out whether any restrictions apply.
Note The “Export Administration Regulations” page on the US Bureau of Industry and Security Web site includes downloadable files on everything mentioned in this section—from the “Table of Contents” for the EAR, to the “Index,” to the “Commerce Control List,” to “License Exceptions.” Bookmark it for future reference: http://www.bis.doc.gov/index.php/regulations/export-administration-regulations-ear.
Some sections of the EAR (http://www.bis.doc.gov/index.php/regulations/export-administration-regulations-ear) to check out include:
1. Part 732, Table of Contents: “Steps for Using the Ear,” is a step-by-step guide to general license obligations.
2. Parts 738 and 774: “Commerce Control List Overview and the Country Chart,” Part 738, and the “Commerce Control List,” Part 774, will tell you which country group your export destination falls into. Don’t let the numbers and abbreviations scare you. Once you’re looking at the EAR, getting to the right section isn’t terribly difficult.
3. Supplement No. 1 to Part 738: This supplement to the country chart offers comprehensive instructions on using the chart along with a detailed example. If your country of destination is not listed here, you do not need a validated license unless your commodity meets one of the technical exceptions noted within the export commodity control number (ECCN; an item that may be subject to a short supply control, for example).
4. Part 774, in reference to the country destinations that require a validated license: In addition to listing your country grouping, the “Commerce Control List” in Part 774 also lists country export destinations that require a license. If your product is on the list, an “X” appears next to the country you intend to export to. The next step in the export process is to apply for an appropriate license electronically through the Simplified Network Application Process Redesign (SNAP-R). Everything you want to know about SNAP-R can be found at http://www.bis.doc.gov/snap/ and https://snapr.bis.doc.gov/snapr/docs/snaprFAQ.htm. Before applying for a license, check with your customer on what documentation is required.
5. Part 748: The “Application Classification Advisory and License,” featured in this part, allows you to find the ECCN assigned to your type of product yourself if the Department of Commerce can’t help you. For items subject to the EAR but not listed on the CCL, the proper classification is EAR99. This number, which appears at the end of each category in the CCL, is a “melting pot” classification for items not specified under any CCL entry.
You can also contact the Office of Exporter Services at your local department of commerce (DOC) by phone or e-mail to go over these steps. If it can’t help you, do the research on your own and then visit one of the DOC counselors to confirm your findings. Check with your international attorney on specific export transactions because the EAR is complicated; the index to the “Commerce Control List” alone is seventy-five pages.
A brief alert: Various requirements of the EAR depend upon your knowledge of the end use, end user, ultimate destination, or other details of the export transaction. If you can discuss your transaction in good conscience with DOC counselors and with complete confidence, then there should not be any cause for an agency intervention. But if you cannot explain whom you are selling your product to, why the customer is buying it in the first place, or what she will do with it once it is purchased, you’ve got a problem. If this is the case, you should refrain from pursuing the transaction, advise the BXA, and wait. The BXA is there to help you, not hurt you. Its role is to prevent exports and reexports that go against the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States. It is good to consider it our duty as citizens to work in partnership with the agency to maintain the highest standards of protection for our country.
Caution To comply with export law, map out an export-compliance strategy. This is vital. But keep it simple and easy to understand because you don’t want to accidentally end up exporting a product that will be used for other wrongful purposes later on. US export controls help protect our country by keeping products and technologies away from countries of concern, persons who might use the products against us, or terrorists. Violations of this nature can result in both criminal and administrative penalties. Assigning one person to track the complete export process carefully and always address the how, what, when, where, why, and originating party of every export is a start to meeting US exporting regulations and keeping our country safe. For more information, visit the US Bureau of Industry and Security (http://www.bis.doc.gov/seminarsandtraining/seminardescription.htm).
Must You Obtain the Import License for the Destination Country, Too?
Obtaining an import license is not your responsibility. It is your customer’s. If you have secured payment with him, for example, with an Irrevocable Letter of Credit, it is up to your customer to take the appropriate measures to determine whether he needs an import license. If he does need a license and neglects to apply for it, and you ship against the L/C, you are still entitled to payment because you took care of things at your end. The customer, however, will not be able to clear the product at the port of entry until he clears up the licensing problem. If he fails to get an import license and you ship on open account, you may not get paid until weeks or months later. That said, it is a good idea to find out from your customer if an import license is needed, even though it is not your responsibility to arrange it. Whether or not the license is needed, be sure to secure payment.
Other Port-of-Destination Requirements
It’s important to be aware of the standards and regulations of the importing country. Ideally, your customer will be knowledgeable about possible barriers to entry, but it helps to be aware of shipping restrictions and documentation requirements yourself. For example, if you are exporting food, medical, or electrical goods, your customer may not be able to import these items until she conducts an inspection to see that the goods meet local standards. Most developed nations have organizations comparable to the US Food & Drug Administration that monitor product safety. So, before your customer imports so much as a cheese sandwich, she will have to check with the organization that is equivalent to the FDA in his country to make sure the product can be imported. Once you’ve made sure that there is no reason why your product should be barred from entry, you may be ready to ship.
Shipping Under a General License
If you’ve checked the EAR and confirmed with your department of commerce that you do not need a validated license (VL), you can proceed with your shipment under a general license without having to apply for a formal license. The good news is that the majority of products exported are covered by a general license. You should still check to see, however, if your shipment requires an SED, which, as mentioned earlier, helps US customs to monitor shipment licensing.
Shipping Under a Validated License
On the other hand, you might have found out that the country you want to export to requires a VL for your product. Usually, the following types of products are subject to export controls and will require a VL:
1. Goods that pose potential harm to your own country’s security
2. Goods that cause a shortage of supply in your own country
3. Goods that affect your country’s foreign policy
As the exporter, you must prepare a Form BXA-622P, “Application for Export License,” and submit it to the BXA. Be very, very careful in preparing your submission. Be sure to include any technical or supportive documentation necessary for your product presentation. Whatever you do, do not ship your goods without first getting a validated license and number. If you do, you risk severe civil and criminal penalties.
To ensure a smooth license application process, avoid these common pitfalls:
1. Leaving out important information on the application
2. Failing to sign the application
3. Handwriting instead of typing the application
4. Leaving information out of your product description in Section 9b. Be specific and include all appropriate supporting materials
5. Leaving information out of your end-use description in Section 12
The review process to obtain a VL generally takes about two weeks, unless it has to be reviewed by the Department of Defense. Then, it can take longer. If, for example, you are shipping military equipment or other goods with a military application, you have to go all the way to Congress for approval. Depending on the nature and volume of the product to be shipped and the political stability of the country of destination, it can take months before you get the appropriate licenses and authorization. I recommend these guidelines: If your transaction is significant (i.e., it carries a large value in US dollars or requires some secrecy or confidentiality) and is destined for a newly industrialized country or one with which the United States does not have well-developed political or commercial ties, apply for your license several months in advance of production in order to ensure a timely delivery to your customer. Keep in mind that an export of this type is a rarity, especially for a newcomer in the industry.
Once your product is approved and a license number assigned, the license will be mailed to you. This number must be used when you prepare your SED, as previously covered. An SED must accompany all shipments under a VL—no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Treat the VL as you would a document you are preparing for the IRS. Keep accurate records of all shipments you make against a VL and retain it for at least five years. For further record-keeping measures, refer to Section 787.13 of the EAR.
I recommend that you inquire with your international attorney, your local DOC, and your local Export Assistance Center for further ins and outs of licensing and also to get some hands-on experience in using the reference materials discussed here.
Tip There are license exemptions or exceptions that authorize you to export or reexport items subject to the EAR (see Section 508/Part 740), under stated conditions, where they would otherwise require a license. Check with the Bureau of Industry and Security at the U.S. Department of Commerce at http://www.bis.doc.gov/index.php/564-federal-register-notices-2011-beta-copy.
If the customer requests that you provide insurance, then you must issue an insurance certificate evidencing the type and amount of coverage for the cargo being shipped (refer to Chapter 12). Be aware, though, that some countries prohibit insurance coverage issued in the United States, so check in advance with your freight forwarder before making any insurance commitment to your customer. The forwarder will quote you insurance coverage at the 110 percent CIF (cost of goods, insurance, and freight) value and prepare the certificate for you. The company probably knows that the certificate should be made in negotiable form and must be endorsed before it is submitted to the bank.
Dock and Warehouse Receipts
The dock receipt is issued once the export product has been moved by the domestic carrier to a port of exit and left with the next responsible carrier, which will then take it from the port of exit to the overseas destination. The receipt proves that a transfer has been made from one carrier to another. The warehouse receipt lists the goods received for storage at a warehouse.
Health Inspection Certificate
It is important to know about the destination country’s health and sanitary regulations that pertain to the product you are about to export. The best way to find out about these regulations is to contact officials in the Office of Food Safety and Technical Services (OFSTS) at the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) located in Washington, DC. This office is largely responsible for overseeing manufacturing, production, and shipping practices that affect food safety, such as food additives, product standards, and packaging.
If you are exporting an agricultural product, you might need a Phytosanitary Certificate detailing inspection. This certificate is issued by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to satisfy import regulations for foreign countries. It indicates that a US shipment has been inspected and is free from toxic plant and pest diseases. In addition to the Phytosanitary Certificate, the USDA issues the Export Certificate for Processed Plant Products and the Certificate of Quality and Condition. If a processed plant product cannot be given a Phytosanitary Certificate but has been denied entry to one or more countries for lack of a health certification, an Export Certificate can be issued. Some products in this category are bulk nuts that are salted, roasted, or vacuum packed (in or out of their shells); soy-fortified products; and meal extracted from seeds by solvent. The Certificate of Quality and Condition is offered by the USDA’s Processed Products Branch following official inspection and grading of canned, frozen, and dehydrated fruits and vegetables and related products. This certificate is available on a fee basis and can be tailored to meet your specific export needs.
International Air Transport Association (IATA) Shipper’s Certificate
An IATA shipper’s certificate for restricted or dangerous products is required for all dangerous goods shipments transported by air carriers and air-freight forwarders (http://www.unzco.com/forms/interndangergooddec.htm#IATAdec). The exporter (shipper) is responsible for accurately completing the information on the form per the instructions of IATA (http://www.unzco.com/forms/instructions/DG_IATA.pdf) and ensuring that all requirements have been met through IATA’s Dangerous Goods Regulations (http://www.iata.org/publications/dgr/Pages/index.aspx). Compliance measures include, but are not limited to packaging (shipping carton is adequate, for example), marking (the product exported is identified correctly), and required information related to the product exported.
Get It Right the First Time, So That It Is the Only Time
Even a minor documentation problem can cost you and your customer time and trouble. Once, a very upset Greek customer faxed me about a documentation problem on a shipment he had just received. He complained that I should have prepared the commercial invoice to match up exactly with the pro forma—yes, I know I’ve just been lecturing you on the importance of doing that, but back then I didn’t realize just how important it really was. My customer told me that the local customs officials would not allow clearance of the goods because of that particular discrepancy. Although I was a little confused by the extra data they wanted included on the commercial invoice, I reissued it within minutes, not just in one new version but in three, just in case the first one didn’t suit the people at customs. As it turned out, all three of them worked, so they settled on the one that best suited their needs and cleared their shipment.
Fortunately for me, that mistake was easily resolved. In fact, to this day—twenty years later—the customer still brings up this story because he never had a supplier go to such great lengths to get it right the second time! Now, my guiding principle is to go to great lengths to get it right the first time so that it is the only time. It should be yours, too.
Tip Most transport companies can alert you to documentation problems and take care of them on your behalf. The only thing that might be required is your approval on a reissuance of a document and perhaps a signature (online or offline).
Hopefully this chapter has alleviated any concerns you might have relative to what is essential when preparing shipping documentation to coincide with your transport and payment methods. You’re well on your way to becoming a successful exporter.
I have emphasized again and again that the world of international business is driven by relationships. If you want to succeed in building your own network of relationships, you may need to rethink the way you do business and make a comprehensive commitment to customer service. Much of your success will have to do with communicating regularly, following up to ensure satisfaction, following through on promises, and becoming a valued participant in your customer’s business and professional growth.
And that’s it! It’s been a whirlwind tour of exporting, but I have given you just what you need to succeed. Start the export journey to growth and prosperity for your business. Remember, it’s never too late. If I can create an exporting company, so can you. Go for it!
And One More Thing . . .
I want to leave you with an invitation to join the Export Guide Group (MOOD), a massive open online dialog that I established on LinkedIn. It’s where you will find me and everyone else, like you, who has read this book and has a relentless desire to keep learning and growing. There, we connect and answer questions, process new ideas, and exchange best practices in exporting. I liken this practice to a radical export revolution. Come join the conversation: http://tinyurl.com/kpgbdwf. See you there!
1. See http://www.ftc.gov/os/1997/12/epsmadeusa.htm#e16