Paul Pearson and his company Davenport Development have built and sold more than two dozen apartments at an unfinished South Sound condominium complex, but as of Wednesday, they could not get hold of the windows required to complete the outside of the building.
The windows, purchased from Cox Lumber, were stuck at the local port Cargo Distribution Centre, awaiting clearance through customs Wednesday afternoon.
“All 28 [condo] units are sold,” Mr. Pearson said. “People are waiting for the project to finish so they can move in, but we can’t finish the inside of the building until we get the windows.”
Cox Lumber General Manager Joe Shetler said Mr. Pearson’s project was one of about half a dozen for which his company was awaiting delivery of various retail items, including windows, lumber and other construction materials to distribute to the builders. Normally, Mr. Shetler said, those items would have arrived on a Sunday or Monday for delivery to Cox on a Tuesday. By Wednesday of this week, that had not happened.
“[HM Customs] is saying they’ve got issues that are delaying the release of our containers and that is affecting a lot of job sites,” Mr. Shetler said.
Mr. Shetler said he had discussed the matter with customs officials Wednesday and indicated he would be “disappointed” if he did not see some positive action by Thursday.
According to Mr. Pearson, both Davenport and Cox Lumber have registered with the new Customs Online System (COLS) for processing imports, which was introduced Nov. 1. What were described as computer “glitches” set the system back about a week earlier this month, to the dismay of some retailers just ahead of the holiday season.
Mr. Pearson said his employees encountered some difficulties this week with the new online system processing their requests, but were informed by customs employees that they were not able to manually enter the product import details via the old registration system since Davenport had already registered on the COLS system.
The Cayman Compass asked customs officials Wednesday about the delays, but there was no immediate response. Last week, Customs Collector Charles Clifford told the Compass that the old imports processing system would remain active through the end of 2017 to help deal with any problems arising with the online service.
Mr. Clifford said a certain amount of difficulty in the implementation of the COLS system was expected. He said the eventual idea is to prevent business owners from having to make multiple trips to a customs agent, then the customs headquarters to be assessed duty and then to the port storage warehouse – often all in the same week – before they can pick up items needed for their company. Many companies have, until recently, completed that process every week.
“We will review the situation at the end of the year and, if our customers need more time to make the transition, then we will make every attempt to facilitate that” Mr. Clifford said, adding that some businesses were already using the Customs Online System while others were still using the old declarations forms.
If customs had waited to introduce the new IT system until May or June, Mr. Clifford said, it was possible some customs users would not have come across it until the next holiday season anyway. “It follows that for those customers it wouldn’t matter whether we introduced it during the 2017 busy season or during the 2018 slow season because either way they would still be clearing goods for the first time on a new system during the busy season of 2018 because many of them would have had no reason to use it during the slow season,” Mr. Clifford said. “We encourage the skeptics to embrace the change because the new system is designed to ultimately deliver effective trade facilitation and exceptional customer service while maintaining effective border control protocols.”
Mr. Shetler said Cox Lumber brings in about 800 shipping containers per year and uses the customs system almost every day. Unlike retailers, Cox does not have a particularly heavy “holiday season” demand as compared to other times. However, he said business does increase in November when contractors look to gather supplies before things slow down closer to Christmastime.
“It really shouldn’t get to this,” he said, describing the current import processing system. “Customs is obviously the bottleneck here.”