Import/Export Best Practices To Avoid Personal Liability

Simple Tips Can Keep You Legal: No Bribing, and Keep Your Paperwork Current


While firms of all types can be exposed to penalties resulting from violations of import-export restrictions, did you know that individual employees—including trade professionals and logistics managers—can be subject to personal liability punishment too?

Employer violations are not uncommon, explains Robin W. Grover, a trade lawyer who is also a licensed customs broker. In fact, there are plenty of examples of corporate trade violations where individual liability was faulted, he says. In his AudioSolutionz webinar, “Top Ten Trade Cases Imposing Individual Liability for Employer Violations,” Grover outlines common pitfalls for individuals and how to avoid them.

Stay Legal by Using Your Head

International trade is not easy, wrote Laurel Delaney for The Balance—if it was, more people would be doing it. That said, there are a handful of simple, smart rules that anyone can follow to stay out of legal trouble. These no-brainers, she said, include:

  • Maintain good relationships with trade officials
  • Don’t make bribes—even if it seems like everyone else is doing it!
  • Know the exchange rates for the currencies you are dealing with
  • Know the important restrictions and controls that impact your products
  • Stay current and conforming when it comes to packaging, marking, and language laws
  • Know your incoterms—the established international commercial sales terms
  • Keep good records
  • Verify the reputation and legitimacy of the suppliers or customers you are working with

“Focus on these trouble spots and you will put yourself on the path to what we all crave—a glitch-free international trade experience,” Delaney wrote.

Import-Export Rules Don’t Just Apply To the Big Guys

Anyone who is exporting products overseas or bringing them into the United States from abroad needs to follow federal rules, noted David Noah in an article for, “Six Basic Steps for Export Compliance.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security has speakers traveling the country holding two-day seminars on complying with U.S. export controls. Penalties for export violations start at $11,000 and go up—they can reach $1 million per violation and 20 years behind bars. In 2016, the agency released a 13-page guidance document just on administrative enforcement.

“Unfortunately for many small and medium-sized businesses,” wrote Noah, “company personnel may not know these requirements until it’s too late.” Noah added that many companies will simply hire a freight forwarder to handle many of the technical responsibilities involved in exporting.

“While there is absolutely nothing wrong with outsourcing the export functions,” he wrote, “companies must realize that they cannot outsource their liabilities.”

Clearly, there are plenty of traps to fall into. But, Grover says, there are relatively straightforward best practices available to protect individuals. Avoiding trade-related violations is crucial, he reminds, especially when you are the one whose neck is on the line.

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Jeff Schmerker
About Jeff Schmerker
Jeff has extensive professional experience writing on a variety of topics, from pharmaceutical research to environmental history. He has published more than a half-dozen books, and he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and restaurant reviewer. He lives in Missoula, Montana with his wife and son.