Shippers ask US Customs for extra time to prepare for ACE deadline

Some U.S. shippers are urging U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to push back its November 1 deadline for its new ‘single window program’, saying they are running out of time and more internal agency checks are needed.

The Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), single window promises to consolidate, automate and modernize border processing. When complete, ACE will provide a single access point to connect the trade community with Customs and partner government agencies.

U.S. Federal agencies have been getting down to brass tacks in the past few months as they approach the November deadline, when the major components of the program including the mandatory use of ACE for all entry summaries and cargo release transactions will be put in place. Effective November 1, Customs will turn off its paper-based legacy system and importers and exporters will file all documentation electronically.

Shippers’ groups such as the Trade Leadership Council (TLC), however, have voiced concerns that the program is not entirely ready and many of the importers, exporters, Customs house brokers, freight forwarders and the carriers they represent simply aren’t prepared.

“We are concerned that proceeding with the November 1, 2015 deadline will result in unwarranted expense and disruption for both trade and the U.S. Government and will harm future and ongoing efforts to continue the development of ACE,” the group said in a letter to Customs Commissioner, Gil Kerlikowkse.

“Launching the program on November 1, a date set before the scope of the program was later expanded, would be premature,” they said.

According to the Council, despite significant progress, the ACE program has not been sufficiently advanced for a mandatory 100 percent implementation by November 1. Customs and other government agencies involved, by their own admission, are still in the process of developing necessary programs and pilot test programs with most partner agencies are only just now beginning.

In addition, the Council avers that processes and procedures for the program have not been fully defined, Federal notices have not been published and implementation guides have still not been finalized.

“Until processes and procedures are developed, training cannot be initiated,” the Council said.

“By Customs’ own numbers,” the Council said, “only about 5 percent of cargo releases are currently processed through ACE. That cargo release process, however, is about to become significantly more complex as 15 additional agencies are brought online.

“Piloting of these systems is to start next month, a schedule that does not allow sufficient time to assure that the four elements enumerated above are addressed,” the Council said.

Customs did not return requests for comment, but insiders say the Council’s concerns echo remarks they have heard throughout the industry.

“I certainly understand where the TLC is coming from,” Marianne Rowden, President and CEO of the American Association of Exporters & Importers said.

Rowden said she had just come from attending meetings with Customs’ Trade Support Network last week. The group provides a forum for the discussion of significant modernization and automation efforts within the trade community and its roughly 300 members represent the entire breadth of that community, including trade associations, importers, exporters, brokers, carriers and sureties.

While attending the meetings last week, Rowden said it was clear that there remain cascading issues from software vendors to Customs brokers to importers.

“CBP is pretty adept at dealing with data issues, but we are pretty sceptical that the partner government agencies will have their act together by November 1,” she said.

Speaking earlier in Washington, D.C., Kerlikowkse said he recognizes the industry’s concerns and has encouraged an era of transparency and open communication at the agency he has overseen for little over a year. “The payoff is going to be worth it,” he promised.

“There’s going to be a great return on investment in this technology enabling Federal agencies to able to review all at one time, to respond to cargo movement, reducing costs for both importers and the government.

“While the U.S. trade community and Customs move forward with ACE, the Customs services and trade communities in other countries, including many top U.S. trade partners, are developing their own ‘single window’ portals. The aim is that, eventually, the export documentation of one country will become the import documentation in the receiving country,” he said.

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