How to Keep Your China Product Supplier a Secret

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?