COVID-19 and Shelter in Place Orders
Client alert from Edward Greenberg, GKG Law, P.C.
Several companies have inquired whether forwarders and customs brokers are prohibited from continuing to provide services during this period in view of various Shelter-In-Place orders issued by state or local agencies. To a certain extent, the answer to that will depend upon the wording of the specific order, so it would be prudent to review any order that is issued covering your facilities.
However, based upon the Order to Shelter in Place issued by the Public Health Officer of Alameda County, California two days ago, it would seem that the activities of forwarders and customs brokers would fall within the exemption provided, as those activities are essential to keep goods moving in commerce. Sections 10(f) (x), (xv)-(xvii) of the Alameda County order specifically exempts shipping services, companies that supply other essential businesses with supplies necessary to operate or that ship goods or services to residences, and companies that are engaged in public transportation from the shelter in place requirements. Indeed, given the current economic situation, it would be hard to imagine any government official taking the position that although the ports are open, intermediaries are somehow not permitted to facilitate the movement of goods into or out of the ports or warehouses to customers.
In our view, accordingly, while we don't have similar orders for other states or regions at this point, we believe that forwarders and customs brokers (and other intermediaries, as well as carriers) would be permitted to provide forwarding and customs broker services to the extent necessary to keep goods moving in commerce. Having said that, it is still necessary to minimize potential interpersonal contact by taking the social distancing and other precautions that are widely being recommended in an attempt to flatten the curve on further spreading of this virus.
Again, it would be helpful to review the local public health advisory or order covering each of your company's facilities, but it would be surprising to find some agency coming to a different conclusion.