Hello and good day!
"Sir, these documents must be stamped with your corporate seal," wrote the Russian custom's broker.
For 7 or 8 years our company shipped chocolate and raw cacao to between 30 and 40 different countries every single year. I was the person in charge of managing the logistics and doing all the custom's paperwork.
It was not a fun job. My dad does this work now, God bless his heart.
The job is much lighter than before because we have focused most of our time and energy on doing direct selling here in the United States. For a long time though, we were entirely international wholesalers.
Back to this Russian shipment. It was our first ever shipment to Russia. The client was a good client, and we did business with them for many years. We took the owners out to campo to visit cacao farms and they treated our cacao farm partners with great dignity and respect, which endeared them to us even more.
Unfortunately for me though, shipping cacao into Russia was a big-time pain in the neck. "A corporate seal? I'm not sure what that is. Can you send me an example?" I wrote back. The broker attached an image to his email.
I'd never had to stamp any document with a corporate seal, and I had no idea where to get one. I looked around online and found a website that offered digital corporate seals. I signed up, edited my documents to include the digital seal, and sent them off.
"Sir, we don't allow digital seals. The documents must be stamped with a real, physical seal. Please resend."
I got back online and found where I could order a physical corporate seal. The client had paid us in advance and was pressuring me to hurry. I paid for overnight delivery and the seal showed up the next day. I printed all the documents, and they added up to dozens of pages. I stamped the first page of each document with the seal and then scanned everything back in.
"Sir, I've spoken with my supervisor. Every page must be stamped and signed, and we need the documents notarized. And then we need you to send us the physical document. You can send it using DHL."
This thing was turning into a caricature of itself. I stamped every page with that stupid seal and drove to a local notary. They notarized the document and then I went to a Postal Annex and sent the documents via two-day shipping to Moscow.
Two days later, when the tracking said the document had arrived, I followed up. "How does it look?" I asked. "It looks good sir, but we have another problem," wrote the broker.
"We do? What is it?" I wrote back.
"Your cacao is on wooden pallets. All agricultural items coming into Russia must be shipped on plastic pallets," wrote the broker. At this point, I'd shipped cacao to some two dozen countries. None had ever made me use plastic pallets.
"What do we need to do?" I asked.
"This cacao cannot leave the port unless it is on plastic pallets according to regulations. You have to hire a company to unload and reload the pallets," wrote the broker. "Do you know of a company we can use?" I asked.
"Yes." He sent me the information. I wrote an email and lined it up for them to go down and unload our pallets and reload them onto plastic pallets. All that being done, we were able to clear customs.
Every year, I had to go through this exact same process. At least I had the seal on hand.
Whenever we are preparing to send a container of cacao out of the jungle, we need a fellow called the "Ingeniero" "The Engineer" to come out and do a phytosanitary inspection. A phytosanitary inspection makes sure that agricultural products aren't contaminated with any harmful bacteria or toxins prior to export. It is an important and necessary service.
However, in northern Peru where we operate, there is just this one guy who works the territory. My brother Brian knows for certain that this fellow bought the position. He paid for the job.
To make his investment pay off, he requires a bribe from every company needing an inspection. He collects these bribes in addition to receiving his salary and he shares the bribe money with his superior, the person who sold him the job in the first place.
When you contact the Ingeniero to schedule the inspection, he writes back to confirm the date. And when he confirms, he never fails to mention that he will need a reimbursement for the out-of-pocket costs that he will incur.
That is him confirming the bribe amount. We could try to get all high and mighty and moralize and refuse to pay the bribe. But then he wouldn't come. And we wouldn't be able to export cacao. And everything would fall apart.
So, we're stuck.
By the way, the Ingeniero is a very polite and mild-mannered fellow. He's just operating within the system as it exists.
Over the last month we've sent raw cacao to Japan, The Netherlands, and Hungary. You wouldn't believe the unnecessary minutia we had to deal with. We had to edit our invoice between 5 - 10 times for each delivery to comply with some silly regulation that means nothing.
Don't even get me started on sending cacao or chocolate to France. I'd have to type in all caps.
Of every country we've ever shipped cacao and chocolate to, I promise you that by a long shot, the United States of America has the simplest and most rational import and export rules.
We started doing business under Obama, and we kept going through Trump, and now we're working under Biden. During the entire time, America has remained the easiest place in the world to import and export.
That's a big part of why we have so much variety here. It is easy to sell into our markets.
And it is just one of the many reasons why I believe that right now, in 2023, despite what the news might tell you, America's still got it.
More to come tomorrow.
Thank you for your time today and I hope you enjoyed the hot logistics talk.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!