The Customs Service may require shippers, carriers or intermediaries to transmit information on cargo electronically, according to legislative language that was included in the final version of the omnibus trade bill (H.R. 3009) that the House approved on Friday.
The House approved the conference report for the bill before recessing for the summer. The Senate is expected to approve the report this week.
The bill authorizes Customs through the rule-making process to require electronic information, but rather than relying on a cargo manifest, pertinent information will be transmitted by "the party most likely to have direct knowledge of that information."
There is nothing in the bill specifying the number of hours or days in advance of shipment that parties must send their data. Customs must "take into account differences among different modes of transportation," including differences in business practices, operations and technological capacity.
The agency also must limit data-gathering to information that is "reasonably necessary to ensure transportation safety and security," and balance the flow of commerce and the need for security.
Mandatory cargo reporting originally was part of port and maritime security legislation. A House Transportation Committee and Senate Commerce Committee conference committee is working on a final version of that bill. The electronic-information provisions were withdrawn because neither committee has jurisdiction over Customs.
They reappeared in the trade bill conference committee that included members of the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee, which have Customs oversight authority.
Jon Kent, legislative attorney for the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America, said that the port and maritime security conference still may have a say in how Customs collects information, but the committee will not reconvene until after Labor Day.
Kent said the trade bill was a major legislative victory for importers and brokers. In addition to the "bright lines" delineating the boundaries of Customs rule-making authority, the bill re-authorizes the Generalized System of Preferences for five years.
The bill also allows importers to make periodic duty payments without paying interest after 10 days. Kent said this frees importers to make monthly payments, and lets Customs develop the Importer Activity Summary Statement (IASS), which is a critical part of the automation process.