PHILADELPHIA — One of the larger customs brokers in the Delaware River region, OHL is a global supply chain management solutions leader with teams dedicated to air and ocean transportation, trade services and customs brokerage focused on specific industry verticals, including retail, apparel, footwear, chemicals, steel, forest products and especially perishables.
Ed Fitzgerald, assistant vice president of import operations, has been with OHL for 19 years and manages the perishable customs brokerage team, solving international shippers’ challenges before they become problems.
“One of our taglines, it’s on our business card, is ‘Details Matter’. Each commodity, each country has different requirements for entry purposes. It could be cold treatment or fumigation regulations, date-sensitive issues concerning USDA marketing orders and tariff rate quotas, country of origin criteria,” Fitzgerald said. “We do a lot of double checking and follow up. We are the eyes, ears and nose for our clients and their products.”
As a customs broker with dedicated teams specializing in the perishable fruit and vegetables industry, “We are always working closely with the government agencies to ensure compliance and release, and we’re in daily communication with the ocean carriers, agents, truckers and exam stations,” Fitzgerald said.
Clients are apprised daily of cargo status “because time and money go hand in hand with perishable cargo,” he said.
“We’re constantly checking the terminals to make sure cargo is available and moving to ensure expeditious movement through the supply chain,” Fitzgerald said.
Multiple government agencies regulate international cargo, and the process for importing begins with security filings 24 hours prior to loading of the vessel for containerized cargo.
“We’re receiving data from our clients’ shippers and growers about upcoming departure dates of perishable cargo. At that time we start to manage the transaction, Fitzgerald said.
Commercial invoices, packing lists, bills of lading, cold-treatment charts, phytosanitary and inspection documents — it’s a nightmarish flurry of paperwork that requires an expert eye to sort through.
After filing for cargo entry with various government agencies within five days or arrival, OHL “can forecast for our clients and vendors so they know what to expect,” Fitzgerald said.
From there, trucking orders are issued to deliver cargo from the terminal or exam station to cold storage. These are “specialty carriers that react and provide service on very short notice,” Fitzgerald said. “Many times they are at the terminal on standby awaiting final release.”
OHL then wraps up loose ends, like making sure containers and equipment are picked up and returned before fees accrue. The final piece of the puzzle is handling financial transactions.
“We’re divided up into different teams. Based on the amount of entries from a point of origin, we try to distribute evenly and Ed oversees the whole operation,” said OHL Business Development Manager/Perishables Christopher Ryan. “We’ve been doing this for 40 years and take pride in knowing our clients’ products and the entry requirements associated with them to make sure the cargo gets out of the port as fast as possible. We have long-standing partnerships with all the terminals and cold storage facilities and government agencies, so we know who to go to in order to make sure the product moves. That’s the biggest thing in perishables: Making sure your cargo gets to market as fresh as possible.”