US Customs expected to extend certain ACE deadlines

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will extend deadlines for certain criteria that will be required after the rollout of its “single window” initiative on February 28, according to  brokers, forwarders, importers and exporters who say they simply won’t be ready to meet those requirements by the end of the month.

The ACE implementation was originally set for November last year. But, in August, CBP extended the deadline for another four months after customs brokers and software providers said the slow release of technical specifications did not give them enough time to conduct the necessary programming, integration, testing and revisions.

Now, nearly four months later, the agency said it is fielding input from stakeholders and it is aware there remain concerns. The agency said it continues to evaluate industry readiness and intends to move forward with the transition in “a way that does not disrupt the flow of commerce.” It would not say whether that meant another deadline extension, a partial extension for certain criteria or something else entirely.

The single window system, otherwise known as the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) promises to consolidate, automate and modernize border processing. When complete, it’s single, electronic portal will allow importers and exporters to share trade documents with government agencies, saving shippers and brokers’ time and money.

“But it isn’t ready,” said spokesman for the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America, Jon Kent.

“Whether it’s not ready because the trade isn’t ready or because Customs isn’t ready, the deadline needs to be modified,” Kent said.

Kent’s group represents more than 1,000 freight forwarders, customs brokers, ocean transportation intermediaries and air cargo agents.

The association had last month sent a letter to CBP requesting the agency halt all software developments tied to the rollout of ACE on February, 28.

According to the group, because the single window is being constantly updated, with some changes slated to be introduced on the transition date of February 28, shippers’ software will not be able to handle some changes, which could result in bugs and other technical problems that may delay shipments and create costs.

According to a customs broker, Steven Preston, just 17 percent of imports are currently being processed through ACE, which he said is a far cry from full implementation.

He added that it is not just shippers and brokers but some of the largest partner government agencies are not prepared.

“Some, such as the Food and Drug Administration, had planned to be online by November of last year. Others, such as the Fish & Wildlife Service, admitted early on they could never make that deadline and put off implementation until early 2016.

“Even FDA is still in pilot, there is still program activity occurring. It is understandable, given the “vast and complicated” migration and the fact “there are so many different kinds of goods that require FDA clearance,” he said.

Kent and Preston said CBP has welcomed the idea of “carve outs,” extended deadlines for certain functionalities that a broad section of filers will have challenges implementing, or that may cause commercial hardship to filers or the supply chain.

“It wouldn’t mean delaying the rollout of a general ACE on Feb. 28. Customs would still get to keep its historic “milestone,” It would just mean an extended deadline for certain functions and requirements,” Kent said.

“Whatever carve outs, contingency plans, how CBP is approaching this deadline, please make that public as soon as possible,” said President and CEO of the American Association of Exporters and Importers, Marianne Rowden.

CBP has however not said whether it intends to hold fast to the February deadline or not.

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