How to Keep Your China Product Supplier a Secret

China import duties

We ended our post, YOUR China Supplier Information. It’s Out There, with the question, “What do you do to prevent your Western buyers from learning about your foreign suppliers and going around you?” Yesterday we received an answer from a loyal reader who says he maintains an ongoing request with US customs for confidential treatment of his company’s vessel manifest information.

Let me explain.

United States Customs and Border Protection is required to keep import information (contained on entry documents) quasi-confidential. Someone cannot just walk in off the street and get access to all of an importer’s manifest data.

The reason the manifest data is so important is because it usually contains all sorts of information the importer typically prefers  remain secret. Most importantly, the manifest data usually lists the foreign manufacturer of the product being imported and many companies will use this information to go around the importer and just start buying directly from the overseas manufacturer. You may have spent six months and $50,000 searching out the perfect Vietnamese manufacturer for your product and you certainly do not want someone else getting that same information merely by checking your manifests.

But it really is nearly that simple.

The reason it has become so simple to check manifests is because Custom’s confidentiality requirement has a media exception big enough to drive a truck through.  The media exception allows media to collect and publish manifest data and the definition of “media” seems to encompass a number of companies that gather up this information and re-sell it on the internet. For companies trying to keep their foreign manufacturing information confidential, this exception creates a significant problem.

But there is an exception/solution to the exception.

The solution is to submit a separate confidentiality request to the Custom Bureau’s Privacy Branch, specifically requesting the information on your vessel manifests not be disclosed at all. If your request is granted (and it nearly always is) your information will remain confidential for two years.

After this initial two-year period, your sending a letter requesting a renewal of confidentiality will extend confidentiality for another two years. There is no limit on the number of renewal requests you can make either. To be safe, if you are going to submit a renewal request, you should do so around 60 days before your existing protection expires, so as to avoid a protection gap period during which time your vessel manifest information might leak to the media and be published.

Who’s doing this?

9 responses to “How to Keep Your China Product Supplier a Secret”

  1. This is a really good tip for importers of goods from any country. Two additional points: The media exception only applies to ships manifests. If the imports are by air, the data is not available. Also, when requesting confidentiality, include all the possible variations on your name that the supplier might put on the documents. For example, if you are Jones’ Textiles, consider requesting confidentiality of Jone’s, Jones’ Txt, JT Inc., Joan’s Textiles and whatever else might apply.

  2. This is great information. One more tip: be sure you list out every variant of your name with the Customs authorities to ensure that nothing slips through.

  3. I use the confidential treatment request to protect my company’s import data. And I also subscribe to the trade data companies that publish the information. They really are a great source for indentifying suppliers and collecting general market intelligence on where and from whom your competitors are buying. However, even if you request confidential treatment from CBP, only the shipper, consignee, and notify party information is stripped before given to the trade data companies. Other information is still released such as the HS description and product markings as they appear on the bill of lading. An enterprising individual could see the product shipped, the port of lading and other tidbits to track down your suppliers. I know I have. So in addition to requesting the confidential treatment you should also review what the broker/FF is listing on the bill of lading and remove unnecessary details. That information can be placed on the other documents.
    If you have the resources, setting up your own China trading company as one of Dan’s clients did is also an excellent tactic. But even that should be combined with the confidential treatment request since it is easy and free.

  4. Larry and DDA are correct. I’ve seen shipment information posted because of the poor and/or sloppy English of the vendor/freight forwarder that lets the information pass through CBP’s filter. Sometimes a misspelling or even a missing letter. CBP tries but nothing is fool proof, listing multiple variants of your name on the confidential treatment request and knowing what’s on your bill of lading can help avoid this.

  5. I have seen the Chinese go to a website that lists all shipments, air and sea, not small parcel.
    Search supplier or consignee. Lists weight, date, commodity, addresses.
    Very useful in checking competitors customers and would be an easy way for US customers
    to bypass their domestic suppliers.

  6. The only way to prevent competitors from getting your info is setting up your own china trading company or using one you can trust (good luck). Most anyone who is sourcing competitors can easily find out your manufacturers through the Chinese shipping data, or by subscribing to importgenius.com online. However, these days most of the larger competitors with valuable secrets are using their own trading company, or their own office in China. This leaves only the mid size and smaller companies to steal from. But you can bet that those who are successfully hiding their suppliers are also looking at yours!

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