What are AQI Services?
APHIS' mission is to protect the health and value of American agriculture and natural resources. The agricultural quarantine and inspection (AQI) program provides for inspections of imported agricultural goods, products, and other articles, such as commercial aircraft, ships, trucks, rail cars and passenger baggage, to prevent the introduction of harmful agricultural pests and diseases. Services to directly provide these inspections or that support these inspections are known as AQI services.
Who Provides AQI Services?
APHIS and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) work jointly to carry out AQI activities. Although APHIS once had total responsibility for this function, more than two-thirds of its AQI inspection force—the frontline inspectors – permanently transferred to CBP in 2003, after Congress established the Department of Homeland Security.
APHIS is required to achieve full cost recovery for the program through rate setting. APHIS is also responsible for program oversight and debt management, deciding which kinds of agricultural commodities can enter the United States and under what conditions, developing inspection protocols and guidance, developing and conducting training for CBP agricultural specialists, identifying pests, and conducting commodity and conveyance treatments (e.g., fumigation, cold treatment, and irradiation). APHIS also continues to inspect some agricultural products, such as plants intended for planting (propagative material).
What authority does APHIS have to collect user fees for AQI services?
Section 2509(a) of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade (FACT) Act of 1990 (21 U.S.C. 136a) authorizes APHIS to collect user fees for AQI services. The FACT Act was amended on April 4, 1996, and May 13, 2002.
The FACT Act, as amended, authorizes APHIS to set and collect fees sufficient to cover the cost of providing AQI services in connection with the arrival at a port in the customs territory of the United States (the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico), or the preclearance or pre-inspection at a site outside the customs territory of the United States, of:
- Commercial vessels
- Commercial trucks
- Commercial railroad cars
- Commercial aircraft
- International passengers
The FACT Act also authorizes APHIS to recover the costs of administering the user fee program.
Although both APHIS and CBP provide AQI services, the FACT Act gives the Secretary of Agriculture sole authority to set and collect AQI user fees, as well as responsibility for ensuring that the fees are sufficient to cover the costs of the AQI program. It further authorizes USDA to credit the collections to the accounts that incur the costs and maintain the funds until expended for those services. APHIS distributes the revenue between APHIS and CBP based on the distribution of work between the two agencies. Currently, APHIS retains approximately 37 percent of collections, and CBP receives approximately 63 percent.
For which AQI services does APHIS charge user fees?
APHIS has statutory authority to charge user fees for AQI services provided to all international passengers arriving in the customs territory of the United States, and for all commercial vessels, trucks, aircraft, and railroad cars arriving in the customs territory of the United States. When we established our fees in 1991, however, we elected to charge commercial vessel fees only for commercial vessels of 100 net tons or more, and to charge commercial railroad car fees only for loaded railroad cars. We also elected to establish passenger fees only for international airline passengers. We made these choices to be consistent with U.S. Customs Service and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service practices regarding user fees. Having consistent practices allowed us to use fee collection systems that were already in place to collect user fees for those agencies, which maximized efficiencies and kept our costs down. Also, we chose not to establish a user fee for inspecting international vessel passengers, even though they are subject to a Customs user fee, because we determined that our vessel fee would be sufficient to cover passenger inspections.
APHIS has also established situation-specific exemptions that apply to each category of conveyance and to international airline passengers. For a list of exemptions, see 7 CFR part 354, section 354.3 Applicable paragraphs are:
§ 354.3 User fees for certain international services.
- §354.3(b)(2) for commercial vessels
- §354.3(d)(2) for commercial railroad cars
- §354.3(e)(2) for commercial aircraft
- §354.3 (f)(2) for international airline passengers