Faster Customs clearance for US ocean imports expanded nationwide

Faster Customs clearance for US ocean imports expanded nationwide

US Customs and Border Protection has given the Advanced Qualified Unlading Approval pilot program a thumbs up.

US importers stand to see faster clearance of their containers as Customs and Border Protection expands a pilot providing pre-clearance of shipments from four ports to every port in the country.

Instead of requiring vessels to wait for Customs officers to board and clear a ship before the terminal works it, ocean carriers in good standing with the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program can request cargo pre-clearance hours prior to estimated arrival. This will allow the terminal to begin working the ship as soon as it arrives at berth and should increase ship turn times, which creates opportunities for savings in labor and other costs.

“This (program) reduces the amount of time the vessel is in standby after arriving at berth and expedites the cargo unlading process to help ensure that shipments are delivered on time to their final destinations,” the agency said in an FAQ on the Advanced Qualified Unlading Approval, or AQUA, program.

The ship operator must request approval on a case-by-case basis at least 24 hours before a ship arrives in port and the terminal at which the ship is calling must also be a C-TPAT member.

Customs on Sept. 15 expanded the AQUA program to Miami, Long Beach, Los Angeles, New York-New Jersey, Savannah, Seattle and Tacoma from the original four participants of Oakland, Baltimore, Everglades, and New Orleans. AQUA on Dec. 15 will expand to include Charleston, Houston, Jacksonville, Honolulu, Norfolk, Philadelphia, Boston, San Juan, Wilmington, Delaware, and Wilmington, North Carolina. Customs said it plans to make the AQUA program available at the rest of the nation’s ports in Feb. 2017.

The C-TPAT program, formed in the month after Sept. 11 to improve security without impeding trade, aims to provide faster clearance to trusted shippers.

The AQUA program allows sea carriers to better predict unloading times for labor cost purposes and allows Customs to better allocate resources and manpower as necessary, according to Customs. There are also potential cost savings on fuel and dockage fees.

More information on the requirements of the program and how to request AQUA clearance can be found here.

Contact Dustin Braden at and follow him on Twitter: @dustin_joc.