By the end of 2016, the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) automated electronic trade processing system, will become the long-awaited Single Window: the primary pOréal for reporting information about imports and exports to the federal government, and for government agencies to process trade-related transactions and determine whether goods are admissible into the United States. CBP has set several mandatory deadlines for transitioning to ACE, and although they are coming up fast, importers and customs brokers say it could be difficult—and perhaps impossible—to comply.
May 1, 2015, is the date for mandatory use of ACE for all electronic manifest filing in every mode of transport. On Nov. 1, CBP will shut off the previous electronic filing system, known as the Automated Commercial System (ACS), and importers and customs brokers must use ACE for all electronic cargo release and related entry summary filings, including communications with other government agencies. On Oct. 1, 2016, ACE will be mandatory for all remaining electronic processing of cargo transactions, and paper-based processing will end.
Or will it? Todd Owen, CBP's assistant commissioner, Office of Field Operations, asserted that "those dates are not going to slip" during his March 31 presentation at the Coalition of New England Companies for Trade (CONECT) 19th Annual Northeast Trade and Transportation Conference in Newport, R.I. Yet, according to CBP's own data, only a handful of importers are currently filing more than 10 percent of their entries through ACE, and in late January, CBP's top brass told the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America (NCBFAA) that some 60 percent of ACE-approved filers had not even tested the new system yet.
Even an early adopter like the customs broker A.N. Deringer is only filing 80 percent of its entry summaries through ACE. That's because the system is not yet set up to accept entry summaries for "special" imports, such as those that are entering foreign trade zones, are subject to quotas, or require temporary importation under bond, among other types of entries, said Amy Magnus, Deringer's director of customs affairs and compliance, on a separate panel. "No programming specifications for those [types of entries] have been released by CBP," Magnus said. Until the agency releases the necessary technical specs, she continued, the vendors that provide customs-compliant software will not be able to program the extensive changes and required new functionality into their products.
Once the specifications have been released, the vendors will face a lengthy period of programming, integration and testing; then the customs brokers will have to conduct their own tests, Magnus said. If revisions are required, that will trigger another round of time-consuming testing.
CBP held a technical meeting with software vendors in Washington last week to discuss preparation for the Nov. 1 mandatory cargo release and entry summary filing. Some functions, such as cargo release for all modes, are just becoming available now. Others—including integration with agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission—could be months away. With only seven months until the drop-dead date, it's doubtful that even the most diligent of importers and customs brokers, and the software vendors on which they depend, will be able to fully meet the ACE filing mandate, Magnus said.
And what then? Speakers and audience members speculated that a temporary return to paper-based processing for certain types of transactions or fines for noncompliance could be on the horizon, and that clearance delays would inevitably result. CBP's Owen had left earlier and was not available to comment.