There was a spirit of pride when members of the Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations of Customs and Border Protection, also known as COAC, met in the nation’s capital last Thursday, a day after President Obama signed an executive order to streamline the U.S. export/import process.
“The executive order is extremely important. It puts the spotlight on trade. It really is in line with our agenda,” said CBP Acting Commissioner Thomas S. Winkowski, who co-chaired the proceedings with Timothy Skud, the deputy assistant secretary of tax, trade, and tariff policy for the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The Acting Commissioner acknowledged that CBP, the COAC, trade associations, and the national security staff had all worked hard to lay the groundwork for the executive order.
The directive, which aims to reduce processing and approval times from days to minutes for small businesses that export American-made goods and services, calls for the completion of the International Trade Data System by December 2016. Currently, U.S. businesses must submit information to dozens of government agencies, often on paper forms, sometimes waiting for days to move goods across the border.
When the new information system is complete, businesses will be able to electronically transmit, through a single window, the data required by the U.S. government to import or export cargo. The new electronic system will speed up export shipments of American-made goods, eliminate duplicative and burdensome paperwork, and increase the efficiency of the government.
“I believe this will result in lower transaction costs,” said Acting Commissioner Winkowski. “If we are going to be competitive in the world’s markets, we need to reduce transaction costs and increase predictability of shipments, which is very important to our stakeholders. So we are excited and proud that the president signed an executive order.”
Skud, who has been instrumental in leading the government’s effort to build the International Trade Data System, noted that tremendous progress had been made during the past 12 to 18 months. “The executive order is going to ensure that the progress that we’ve been making will continue and that the International Trade Data System will be completed on schedule,” he said.
The directive also requires the government to partner with non-government entities to build more efficient business processes and improve border management policies. Similarly, the order tasks the Border Interagency Executive Council, made up of senior executives from U.S. federal agencies, with improving coordination among the dozens of agencies with import and export requirements and with outside stakeholders.
“The council has been in place for some time and we have now been able to have it codified,” said Acting Commissioner Winkowski.
The Acting Commissioner also gave an update on the confirmation status of Richard G. Kerlikowske, who was nominated to be the next commissioner of CBP. In January, Mr. Kerlikowske, the current director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, addressed the Senate Finance Committee. “The hearing went very well and Mr. Kerlikowske was voted out of committee,” said Acting Commissioner Winkowski, who explained that the next step was a full Senate vote. “We’re all looking forward to a new commissioner,” he said.
The Acting Commissioner also spoke about CBP’s budget. “Many key areas were funded. I think for us the most important piece was hiring 2,000 additional CBP officers. Seven hundred officers will be added in fiscal year 2014 and 1,300 officers in fiscal year 2015. That’s huge,” he said. “We’ve also received full funding for ACE, which is very, very good news.” ACE, the Automated Commercial Environment, is CBP’s cargo processing system and the technology backbone for the International Trade Data System.
Speaking on behalf of the COAC, Ted Sherman, director of global trade services for Target Corp. and the advisory committee’s co-chair, outlined the path forward in 2014. “We’re going to continue to focus on advocating and providing advice for the development of a whole of government approach,” said Sherman. “Those concepts are embodied in the master principles for a One U.S. Government at the Border document for exports that we’re going to bring forth today, which really builds on the work of the last COAC,” he said.
Sherman noted that “there is a growing awareness of the fact that the U.S. government trade community can play a leadership role in removing barriers in trade facilitation, not only in the U.S., but on a global basis,” he said. “To be effective, it continues to be critical that CBP engage COAC early and often, not just on operational issues, but on a strategic level,” he said.
COAC recommendations were presented and passed regarding several trade initiatives including regulatory audit programs, Air Cargo Advanced Screening regulations, trusted trader pilots, and ACE.
COAC is a 20-member advisory committee that Congress established in 1987. The committee provides advice and recommendations to CBP and the Department of the Treasury on the commercial operations of CBP and trade-related interdepartmental functions. Some of the issues that COAC focuses on include enhanced border and supply chain security, international efforts to harmonize customs practices and procedures, import safety, compliance, and modernization and automation processes used to facilitate trade.
The next COAC meeting is scheduled to be held in Washington, D.C. in May.