Craig Seelig, Product Manager, Customs and Government Compliance - Americas, for WiseTech Global discusses how ACE provides business advancement for early adopters.
The US Customs Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) is set to become the single window through which the trade community electronically reports import and export activity. With ACE compliance mandated for November 1, 2015, Customs Brokers are feeling the pressure to find software that will accommodate new, paperless workflows, and there's starting to be a bit of panic on the streets.
Initially, no one took the ACE mandate announcement very seriously. For fifteen years, Customs has been rewriting its antiquated 1980s system. The rewrite never seemed to get any traction; all it did was move the existing processes into a newer system. Until recently, ACE developments only focused on fulfilling compliance requirements, without introducing any features that were advantageous to the trade. Because there was no obvious gain for the pain, many brokers delayed looking into the best ways to meet ACE compliance requirements.
Over the last two to three years, however, Customs has been proactive in reaching out to the industry, and they have started to deliver functionality that helps streamline brokerage operations. ACE is now gaining traction as more business-relevant components are being brought online.
ACE delivers a number of features that streamline processes and provide the opportunity for Brokers to increase efficiency:
- Functionality such as the ACE Cargo Release (Simplified Entry) allows brokers to send some limited data sets well ahead of shipment arrivals to secure early confirmation of release. Changes to address any compliance problems can be made in a timely manner, so the delivery chain is in place prior to the release of the goods.
- The Cargo Release is of particular benefit to air transport as it gives brokers flexibility and visibility into split shipments. There has never been anything like this before.
- Customs census warning, which flag valuations and other criteria that fall outside expected tariff parameters, can be over-ridden. Brokers can certify, via electronic message, that their information is valid and state the reasons why the shipment doesn't conform to the norms. They can also anticipate a census warning and notify Customs ahead of time.
- Simple electronic post-summary corrections now replace the old, laborious, form-driven, post-entry amendments.
- The single window platform is also developing rapidly. Customs, as the responsible entity for collecting all trade related data, is bringing online 40 government partner agencies - the Food & Drug Administration (which is already linked), the Environmental Protection Agency, Food Safety Inspection Service, and so on - to provide a streamlined, fully integrated portal for end-to-end compliance 'paperwork'.
- Brokers will no longer have to send couriers to different agencies, get documents signed, and have them delivered to Customs before the goods can be released.
Four Common Truths and Misconceptions
As with any new regulations, there is a lot of discussion on the positive and negative impact Brokers may experience. Here are four of the most common points I hear:
- ACE system is unreliable. There is a perception that the ACE system is often down or unavailable, but that's a misconception. As new pieces are brought into the production phase, the test system may experience some temporary glitches, but the overall system is very robust.
- ACE is complex and difficult. Many ports are still coming on-stream, and admittedly, some aren't as advanced as others. There is genuine cause for concern about the learning curve as it has caused some delays and frustrations for brokers.
- ACE will reduce our workload. It is not necessarily true that ACE will make the broker's job easier. Eliminating the 'paper shuffle' is far more efficient, however brokers still have to collect all the data. In reality, the new and improved agency ecosystem is resulting in greater information requirements, thus creating additional work. All of this brings positive and negative issues for charging clients.
- Early adopters have an advantage. Signing up to ACE now - to form a close relationship with Customs - will give brokers very definite advantages. CBP is looking for early ACE adopters to help build their experience and credibility with the system. In exchange, they are offering extensive, dedicated help. When ACE is mandatory, Customs won't have the resources to work with brokers on a one-to-one basis to help them learn the new processes. Brokers need to learn now, and adjust soon, so they have everything working smoothly by November next year.
Integrating ACE into Your Business
The ACE mandate is forcing many brokers to look at their software. It's a very messy marketplace, which is not doing much to calm the rising panic about moving to ACE-compliant solutions. Some vendors are sunsetting outdated technologies, and the resounding silence from others means they won't be developing new solutions for ACE. There are, however, experienced global providers that have proven, integrated, ACE-ready platforms in place.
Brokerage firms aiming for a move to the latest ACE-ready logistics software should have two targets: a fast and painless check of the ACE box, and, while they're at it, taking the opportunity to streamline the entire business on a single platform. An integrated end-to-end solution will let you make the most of the benefits of ACE.
The best advice to Customs Brokers regarding ACE adoption is summarized in the latest USCBP tag line: "Don't wait. Migrate."
Craig Seelig is Product Manager, Customs and Government Compliance - Americas, for WiseTech Global
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