Importers will be able to file 98 percent of their Customs entry summaries using an upgraded electronic data entry system by the beginning of 2010, the agency says. That will eliminate paper documents, speed freight and clear the way for further improvements in the Automated Commercial Environment.
It’s a milestone for the $1.4 billion ACE project, but Louis Samenfink, Customs and Border Protection’s executive program director for ACE, said there’s more to come. “We’re very excited,” Samenfink said. “This is the beginning to getting us to all of those other capabilities.”
Introduction of the entry summary system gets the ACE program back on track after some stumbles. The entry summary features were to be introduced in September 2008, but Customs postponed the rollout because there were many glitches in the software. The extra programming time needed to work out the kinks in entry summaries had a domino effect to delay other ACE features.
The next major pieces of ACE — the ocean and rail manifest systems — will debut this summer. They will replace two of the three manifest systems in ACS, leaving only the air manifest for now, hastening the day when Samenfink said he will be able to turn off the older Automated Commercial System, a 1980s-vintage entry system ACE is intended to replace.
Customs introduced the ACE improvements at the Port of Buffalo, N.Y., last month and will roll the features out port-by-port until it’s available at all ports of entry by the end of June, Samenfink said.
He said importers and brokers would be able to use ACE to file entry summaries for the two most common entry types, which together comprise 96 percent of all entries: consumption entries, which comprise most imported goods destined for retail sale, and informal entries for small quantities that don’t require a bond. By the end of the year, ACE users will be able to file a third type, anti-dumping and countervailing duty entries. The three combined bring the total to 98 percent of all entries.
The new features join a lengthening list of ACE improvements. Customs and its contractors began working on ACE in 2002, and the first couple of years were devoted to developing the system’s internal workings. One of the first major trade benefits came in 2004 when Customs opened ACE to let importers pay duties on a month-by-month basis for the first time, and get reports summarizing their transaction activity. The same year, Customs began to deploy the ACE truck manifest system, giving motor carriers the same electronic filing capability that ocean carriers, railroads and air carriers had in the ACS.
Large importers and brokers are most likely to benefit from ACE, Samenfink said.
There are 400,000 importers in the U.S., but the overwhelming majority are inactive, or only import goods once or twice a year, he said. Larger importers that move higher volumes are more likely to use the new features.
ACE will handle “Census edits” in a way that will eliminate paper documentation, Samenfink said. It’s a common problem: Say an electronics manufacturer brings in a one-of-a-kind prototype for a new television. It’s worth millions, but the Census Bureau, which keeps U.S. trade statistics, flags the transaction because the value is well beyond the usual value for a TV.
With the old Automated Commercial System, the importer must send a document explaining the anomaly. With ACE, it’s done electronically.
“Now you can do one of two things: You can electronically send us the correction, or you can send information in advance for entries you know are going to bounce up against those Census edits. You can send us the reason for being outside those parameters with your original entry submission,” Samenfink said.
ACE allows importers to keep special documents in electronic form that are needed for some transactions, such as manufacturers’ certificates, or certificates of origin required under the North American Free Trade Agreement. When an importer or broker files an entry summary, ACE attaches the certificates automatically. Importers also can respond to import specialists’ queries for more information on a product.
Importers will still have the option of using ACS. “Customs’ policy is not to tell people they have to start using ACE tomorrow,” Samenfink said. “We know we’re going to take this a little bit at a time, which makes sense from a technical perspective, and it’s something the Trade Support Network requested.” TSN is Customs’ ACE trade advisory committee.
Samenfink said entries filed to ACE would still use the Automated Broker Interface, the communication channel created for sending data to ACS.
“This was the quickest way to get ACE out there. Everybody’s got ABI, everybody’s invested in it. We’re not asking for new investments, and they’re leveraging what they’ve already got to send us data,” Samenfink said.
Contact R.G. Edmonson at firstname.lastname@example.org.