It’s Supposed to Be, But ACE Isn’t Simple

Importing will always and forever be complex. Efforts to simplify some of the processes have, unfortunately, not always borne fruit. The aftermath of the overhaul of U.S. customs admissibility program – Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) – has created a heavier administrative burden on importers, not a lighter one. One has to believe the agencies see the opportunity to leverage technology to also collect more data than what was required in the past, slowing down the streamlined processes.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Single Window initiative under ACE has a relatively practical and realistic goal: to provide an easier way for importers to both file customs entries and submit the data elements required by other U.S. agencies.

Single Window concepts are not unique to the United States either. Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and the ASEAN nations all have a single customs portal, while other countries like China, the EU, and Australia are still developing their systems. From an importer’s perspective, Single Window is an opportunity to reduce electronic submissions. But it also comes with the obligation to realign the organization and its trading partners to the new process.

ACE Benefits

The U.S. project has been a success in terms of onboarding new agencies and requesting new data elements from importers, but in the four years since the go-live of ACE’s single window initiative, it has missed the mark in a key area. It has not, to this point, simplified and streamlined the data collection process as it had once promised.

The program has undoubtedly enabled a new era of electronic data submission across relevant government agencies, called Partner Government Agencies (PGAs). Most PGAs have made great strides, particularly in the last six months. In 2014, the PGAs were put on the clock to be ready for the Single Window, and most are, in the words of one expert, “playing nice.”

It has also cultivated a more inclusive data collection and dissemination process, by bringing scores of agencies onto the same platform as the tens of thousands of importers and customs brokers tasked with transmitting that data.

Some standout examples are the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The EPA’s message set has been stable and relatively easy to implement. The agency is responsible for a multitude of commodities (from toxic substances to pesticides to vehicles and engines) but does not request an unreasonable amount of data from importers and fillers. Additionally, the agency’s requirements are easy to interpret and have not changed drastically since their go-live.

The FDA is the agency with the widest jurisdiction among commodities, and thus its successful Single Window integration has been vital. After a rocky start, the FDA responded appropriately to the trade community and provided multiple means of communication and “war room” style meetings for filers and developers to offer feedback and assistance. In its current state, the FDA’s implementation is not perfect, but remains stable as they continue to communicate effectively with the trade community.

The broader issue, as more PGAs aspire to develop a more reliable interface with the Single Window, is communication and system integration. The PGAs must listen to the trade, adapt to the needs of importers, and limit requests for extra data elements as much as possible. They must also simultaneously integrate better with ACE so that multiple requests for the same data do not occur. The entire point of ACE and the Single Window was to limit the legwork required of importers.

“Many countries are moving to the Single Window concept, which will require both accurate and real-time information to be presented to Customs at time of entry,” said Nathan Pieri, chief product officer for Amber Road. “This places an incredible burden on the importer related to the collection and maintenance of these compliance-related data elements; in fact, one of the PGAs requires over 450 validations.”

Technology providers have made massive updates to their import solutions in order to handle the data requirements for each participating PGA and stay abreast of changes the agencies make. Without the need to utilize technical resources for assistance, new data management tools allow compliance managers to quickly identify changes and apply mass updates to their products and transactions accordingly.

Customs’ Single Window initiatives lower the cost of PGAs to expand on the information needed from importers to confirm admissibility of their goods and streamline compliance processes. The burden of collecting and managing these new information requirements is not-well supported today without automation. Chief supply chain officers are increasingly relying on GTM platforms to manage agency requirements. By staying current with PGA standards, companies can quickly and efficiently confirm admissibility and prevent delays at the border. This is, after all, the heart of the ACE program.

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