How Many Federal Agencies Are Involved in Imports and Exports?

Have you ever heard the idiom that says, ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’? We use it to explain that it is never a wise idea to have too many people involved in a project. It is an idiom that holds up very well in the import-export game. Just in the United States alone, multiple federal agencies take an interest in regulating imports and exports. How many? Too many.

The two most well-known federal players in imports and exports are U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the U.S. Census Bureau. Even the smallest companies that barely dabble in trade compliance are aware of these two agencies because their roles are highly visible. But if you think they are the only two federal agencies with their hands in the mix, think again.

Here is a shortlist of federal agencies with the power to regulate imports and exports (there are more):

U.S. Department of Commerce

The Department of Commerce arguably plays the largest role of all federal departments. They have jurisdiction over nearly all the goods and services exported out of the country. They are also largely responsible for enforcing export regulations. According to Ohio-based Vigilant Global Trade Services, multiple divisions within the department are actively involved:

  • Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS)
  • U.S. Census Bureau
  • International Trade Administration.

If you are wondering what the Census Bureau contributes to trade compliance, it is the agency that tracks U.S. exports for statistical purposes. They are the ones most concerned about export classification.

U.S. State Department

Federal authorities are always on the lookout for ‘defense articles’ being shipped out of the country. Everything from sidearms to missiles are regulated by both federal and international arms regulations. It is up to the U.S. State Department to ensure that all exported defense articles meet the requirements of such regulations.

U.S. Department of The Treasury

The Treasury Department is responsible for enforcing U.S. trade sanctions. They identify nations, entities, and persons unable to receive U.S. exports as a result of sanctions. They are just one of many federal agencies that maintain lists of restricted export destinations.

U.S. Department of Justice

Like the Treasury Department, the Department of Justice (DOJ) maintains a list of restricted parties U.S. exporters are not allowed to ship to. They also enforce restricted party lists, export controls, and a variety of other rules set forth by federal agencies with export regulation authority.

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) spends most of its time regulating financial institutions in the US. However, it does have jurisdiction in the import-export world when it comes to oversight of financial transactions between global corporations. For example, alleged bribes between foreign officials and domestic corporations would fall under the SEC’s purview.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

As you might expect, the USDA is involved in regulating agricultural imports and exports. One of the things they do is work with importers and inspectors to guarantee that agricultural products coming into the country do not bring pests with them.

Again, this is just a short list of the federal agencies interested in imports and exports. Other agencies with regulatory authority include:

  • The Department of Homeland Security
  • The U.S. Coast Guard
  • The Department of Energy
  • The Department of The Interior
  • The U.S. Postal Service.

Is it any wonder that companies like Vigilant Global Trade Services make a lot of money providing global trade solutions? With so many federal agencies involved, you can bet there are plenty of bureaucratic hoops that importers and exporters have to jump through.

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