As I wrote before, most importers don’t want to disclose the names of their Chinese suppliers. But, in the US, the names of shipper and importers (as shown on the bill of lading) is public information.
And it is available through more and more websites: Import Genius, Panjiva, Tradesparq, Trade Mango… Which makes it possible to look up who the suppliers of a particular competitor are!
I outlined three strategies to make sure this doesn’t happen to you in the future.
1. Avoid mentioning your company name on the bill of lading
This strategy makes it impossible for someone to search your company name and find any data.
The trick is to ask for the bill of lading to be issued “to order of [your freight forwarder]. This way, the importer of record is not your company.
I asked Sandra Nguyen Thanh from Karl Gross Logistics to confirm it. Here is what she writes to me:
You can hide your own company name abroad (consignee) when you open bill of lading with “to order” instead of your contact details as consignee.
2. Set up a company in HK and re-issue the bill of lading
This strategy hides the supplier identity, in case someone searches your company name in Import Genius.
It is particularly interesting if you’d also like to ship whole containers directly to some of your customers (you can bill them from your HK company, and declare that profit in HK’s low tax system).
As Anne Kuschert, from Fiducia, wrote in a previous post:
Assuming that the importer has a Hong Kong company, the importer can use his Hong Kong set up to do the re-invoicing of the Chinese supplier’s invoice and packing list. Furthermore he can advise his appointed forwarder to issue the B/L so that the Hong Kong company is shown as shipper and not the Chinese supplier.
Setting up a HK company is quick and not very expensive. Many service companies and CPAs can help you manage all the trade-related paperwork.
3. Use another company to perform your importing activity
Again, this is a strategy to ensure your company name does not appear in the trade records.
You can simply set up another importing business, with a company name that has nothing to do with the name under which you do business. Then you buy domestically from that other company.
This suggestion comes from a regular reader:
There is nothing stopping you from incorporating a new company at home. Here I’m talking about creating a second, seemingly unrelated business with the sole purpose of bringing the goods into the US. In this scenario, your company, ABC Marketing Inc., would purchase its merchandise from XYZ Importing Inc. As a domestic sale, you have perfect privacy, so your competitors would never know that ABC was doing its buying through XYZ.
Anybody has other tips?
UPDATE Nov. 28, 2013: a 4th option
You can send an email directly to the US Customs and Borders Protection administration. More info here.