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Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
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Questions and Answers: AQI Program Cost and Fees

Questions

The Agricultural Quarantine and Inspection (AQI) program, like those in many other countries plays a critical role in facilitating the safe trade of agricultural commodities while protecting U.S. agriculture and the environment from invasive plant and animal pests and diseases. As volumes of international trade and travel increase, so do the risks that foreign animal and plant pests and diseases can enter and establish themselves in the United States. Invasive pests cost our nation an estimated $120 billion each year in damages to our environment, agriculture, and native species.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) work together to carry out AQI program activities to intercept foreign animal and plant pests before they can enter the country. Under the program, APHIS tracks emerging and new pest situations around the world; assesses and analyzes pest risks and pest movements in trade; develops and applies methods to reduce pest risk and movement in trade; develops passenger and cargo targeting, sampling, and inspection protocols; inspects live plant shipments; and monitors and stops illegal movements of agricultural goods in foreign commerce. CBP conducts pre-arrival analysis, targeting, selectivity, and examination of international passengers’ baggage, commercial commodities, containers, commercial vessels, trucks, aircraft and railcars at U.S. ports of entry to determine compliance and entry status using APHIS’ regulatory protocols.

Through the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, also called the FACT Act, Congress authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to prescribe and collect user fees sufficient to cover the cost of providing AQI services. This includes services provided in connection with the arrival at a port in the customs territory of the United States of commercial vessels, commercial trucks, commercial railroad cars, commercial aircraft, and international passengers.

Congress intended with the FACT Act to shift most of the program’s costs from taxpayers to the people and the owners and importers of the goods whose entry into the United States creates a risk of introducing pets and diseases. As a result, the fees require periodic adjustment to ensure they accurately reflect the cost of providing AQI services.

Section 2509 of the FACT Act authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to prescribe and collect user fees for AQI services. Since APHIS is the only Federal Agency that has the authority to collect fees associated with the AQI program, APHIS has a responsibility to ensure that it is run effectively regardless of the allocation of revenue between APHIS and CBP.

Agriculture, food, and related industries contributed nearly $1.1 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product in 2020, a 5-percent share. Experts project that the value of U.S. agricultural trade (imports and exports) alone will likely exceed $320 billion in 2022. The AQI program plays a critical role in safeguarding U.S. agriculture from invasive plant and animal pests and diseases and facilitating safe international trade.

By adjusting AQI user fees, the U.S. Government ensures that the AQI program generates adequate revenue to continue operating at a level sufficient for minimizing the risks of introducing agricultural pests and diseases into the United States. Without sufficient funding, CBP would have to reduce the number of agricultural inspectors at ports of entry or divert increasing amounts of appropriated funds that should be available for other important homeland security functions and initiatives to continue its activities to safeguard American agriculture.

AQI user fees are paid by those who receive AQI services. This includes international airline passengers and the operators of commercial aircraft, commercial maritime vessels, commercial trucks, commercial railroad cars, international cruise passengers, and importers of shipments requiring phytosanitary treatment.

When considering revising AQI user fees, APHIS considers a number of alternatives and selects the changes resulting in the smallest increase in user fee revenues while ensuring we safeguard against the entry of pests and diseases and cover the costs of AQI services. This approach also minimizes the use of appropriated funding and any impacts to U.S. output and employment.

A transponder is a sticker that contains an electronic chip that transmits information about the vehicle’s user fee payment status. Commercial trucking companies can choose to pay for inspection services at each border crossing or they can purchase a transponder that allows unlimited crossings within a calendar year. Most trucks with transponders cross the border an average of 106 times. The new fee is equivalent to the standard fee for 40 crossings. When averaged across the actual number of transits (on average is 106 crossings), the fee per crossing is significantly less than the standard rate for trucks without transponders. Transponders not only save truckers money by offering them a reduced fee for inspections, they also decrease wait times at the border by at least 10 minutes because they’ve prepaid for their AQI services and don’t have to wait in line to pay the cashier. Transponders are purchased from CBP and are good for one year.

APHIS uses an Activity-Based Costing (ABC) model to calculate the individual user fees. As part of the cost allocation process, APHIS also conducts a staff Labor Survey to determine the level of effort in activity areas. APHIS uses an independent accounting firm to review the user fee schedule using industry-recognized processes and best practices to provide a clear cost accounting of how much it costs to deliver AQI services. The review also calculates future program costs based on improvements APHIS and CBP must make, projected program growth rates, and expected changes in imports and international passenger volumes.

Throughout the process, APHIS holds meetings with stakeholders to share the methodology for the review, provide a detailed overview of the study findings, and present the proposed fee changes. We also publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register to solicit public comments on the proposed fee changes.

Each comment is carefully evaluated by subject matter experts and addressed in the final rule. We take comments very seriously and make changes in accordance with them. The preamble to a final rule addresses these comments specifically.

The AQI fee adjustments are consistent with the United States’ international trade obligations. The adjusted fees will ensure adequate resources for agriculture inspection at U.S. borders, helping to support and facilitate safe international trade.


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