U.S. CUSTOMS BROKERS and freight forwarders are taking steps to break out of their electronic isolation.

They know the United States is an island when it comes to global trade communications. They are moving to break their dependance on the United States Customs Service's Automated Commercial System for almost all of their electronic communications.ACS was developed for and by Customs. It has revolutionized the way trade documents are handled in the United States. More than 85 percent of the releases Customs uses to process imported goods now are submitted electronically.

Information reaches ACS over a number of paths. Releases move over the Automated Broker Interface. Use of ABI has enabled Customs to boost tariff

revenues while keeping staff costs down.

Despite its benefits, ABI is limited. Because of its origins and design, the system is only good for getting information to Customs.

ABI cannot transmit information to other members of the trade community or to brokers and forwarders in other nations. And the information ACS handles is Customs-related. Customs doesn't care about rate quotes or booking information.

Members of the trade and transportation community are increasingly frustrated with this electronic tunnel vision.

Brokers and forwarders play a vital role in moving trade related information. Limitations on their ability to process important trade data slows the pace of automation for everyone involved in moving goods into or out of the United States.

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CREATING A NETWORK devoted specifically to the needs of brokers and forwarders long has been touted as a way to break the U.S. trade data bottleneck.

U.S. brokers and forwarders some months ago embarked on what looked to be a long and cumbersome search for network alternatives. They may have found a solution far sooner than many in the trade community expected.

Tests reportedly soon will begin involving U.S. use of the London-based Freight Forwarders Network.

The Freight Forwarders Network was created by the United Kingdom's freight forwarding community. It is run by Export Network Ltd., London.

U.S. exploration of possible use of the Freight Forwarders Network has only just begun. The service has limitations; for one, it is designed for forwarders, not brokers. Yet the potential is also great: It allows easy worldwide transmission of vital booking and shipment information.

Supporters of the Freight Forwarders Network tout it as the only global service devoted specifically to the needs of brokers and forwarders.

If tests are successful, the Freight Forwarders Network could be playing an important role in U.S trade in only a year or so. That could put some real power behind the claims of the Freight Forwarders Network's proponents, and make moving data and goods worldwide far easier.