The No. 1 commercial issue for U.S. Customs and Border Protection is completing its automated commercial environment and linking ACE with the 46 other government agencies involved in clearing shipments at the border Commissioner Gil Kerlikowkse said Saturday.

Kerlikowske said developing a single, electronic portal that allows importers and exporters to share trade documents with government agencies will result in greater commercial efficiencies and reduced processing costs. The long-delayed roll-out of ACE, which has already cost slightly more than $3 billion and is more than $1 billion over budget, hurt customs brokers who have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on software for ACE and the outdated cargo processing system it is replacing.

“CBP will work with other agencies to leverage resources,” he said at Wesccon, the Western Cargo Conference of freight forwarders and customs brokers in Coronado, California.

The government will likewise continue to work closely with importers, exporters and customs brokers to leverage the resources of the private sector, the commissioner said. The single window at the border creates a one-stop experience for brokers and traders.

“You submit all of your information through one portal, and you get answers back through one window,” said Brenda Smith, who was recently promoted to CBP’s assistant commissioner in the Office of International Trade.

In order to establish the single portal, however, Customs must meet some important deadlines for the roll-out of its computer system, known as the automated commercial environment, or ACE.

The key deadline is now November of 2015 when the major components of ACE will be in place. Customs will turn off its legacy system that involves the use of paper documents, and importers and exporters will file documentation electronically. The next 12 and one-half months will therefore be somewhat trying for the trade community.

“We’re in that transition stage where we are moving from paper to data,” said Geoffrey Powell, president of CH Powell Co. “The agencies are learning, too. We’re all learning together.”

While the U.S. trade community and Customs are moving forward with ACE, the customs services and trade communities in many of the top U.S. trading partners are developing their own electronic portals. Eventually the export documentation of one country will become the import documentation in the receiving country.

This international effort is moving along steadily with U.S. trading partners in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and the World Customs Organization. In fact, some of the 21 nations in APEC are even further along than the U.S. in developing their computerized systems.

It will be a two-stage process, said John Leitner, president and CEO of W.J. Byrnes & Co.  Each country will develop its own system similar to ACE, and when each trading partner has completed its single window at the border, all of the systems will be linked together. The goal of APEC is to complete the single-window project by 2020, Leitner said.


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