Getting Ready for ACE

The business of importing and exporting with the United States reaches a milestone at the end of 2016 when the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) is to be fully implemented.

The business of importing and exporting with the United States reaches a milestone at the end of 2016 when the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) is to be fully implemented.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is to be commended for fulfilling the ambitious scope of ACE. By eliminating paper filings and giving parties the much-anticipated “Single Window” into those agencies that oversee trade, ACE promises to save users time and money while making the customs clearance process more secure.

contiNgency approach

A fully operational ACE will cap years of a multi-phase implementation. At FedEx, we knew extensive preparation for each new phase was vital or else we would put our customers’ shipments at risk. Working with CBP, the Food and Drug Administration, and other Partner Government Agencies (PGAs), we developed a contingency approach that can be useful to other organizations as they adapt to this new era in trade.

FedEx involvement with ACE dates back to 2009, when we cleared our first shipment as part of a small group of “first filers” to test the system. We’ve been working with ACE ever since.

Throughout the process FedEx collaborated with customers and agencies to help ensure customers’ packages kept moving toward their final destinations. FedEx provided agencies with needed feedback about our firsthand experiences when ACE modules became live.

For example, in June 2015, CBP implemented the ACE Air Manifest. As the world’s largest air express cargo company, FedEx Express had a big stake in its success. In our hubs and clearance gateways there is a limited amount of time for shipments to complete the clearance process and make it to their connecting flights. With careful planning we were able to maintain high service levels during the Air Manifest rollout.

Here are the insights we’ve gained from working with ACE:

Your customers are your priority. Our priority is to fulfill service to our customers. For Air Manifest, we prepared detailed contingency plans, added staff as needed, and were in constant communication with customers, trade groups, and CBP at the national and local levels. The goal was to make the transition to ACE invisible to customers.

Work with your industry partners. We worked with Airlines for America, the Express Association of America, and the International Air Transport Association to help them better understand our issues surrounding ACE implementation. As advocates for our industry, it was important that these organizations be kept informed about our concerns.

Get your voice heard. We encouraged industry organizations and our vendors to provide feedback to CBP to ‘turn up the volume’ on issues and opportunities. With an initiative as large as ACE it was essential for these messages to be heard as many times as possible.

Develop the relationships. We cultivated relationships with government agencies and industry groups involved with ACE and chose vendors that would make this effort. Knowing the right people to call when you need assistance—people who already know you and understand your business—is invaluable when you’re resolving a problem.

With some months to spare before ACE becomes fully live, those shippers and brokers that do not yet have an implementation plan still have time to prepare. Penalties for non-compliance extend beyond monetary fines and include delivery delays, wrangling over import admissibility, and needless stress.

ACE is a major achievement for the trade community. Those who will benefit the most from it are those who are ready to take maximum advantage of it.

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