Acting Commissioner McAleenan Hosts Trade Advisory Committee in D.C.
When members of the Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee, known as COAC, met in Washington, D.C., last Tuesday, the discussion focused on maintaining continuity. In April 2018, when the 14th term of the congressionally mandated trade advisory group ends, a number of the members will complete their service. Next February will mark the fourth and final public meeting of the term.
“This has been one of the best groups we’ve ever had. It’s been a tremendous partnership. We’ve learned a lot,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Acting Commissioner McAleenan. “The good news is we’re going to continue our strong partnership with COAC. We’ve received over 70 applications from private industry, which is a very good sign that you’re finding value in your participation and engagement with CBP. So I’m excited about getting some fresh, new perspectives in supporting us, but also want to make sure that we have a solid transition.”
Speaking on behalf of the COAC, Vince Iacopella, the executive vice president of growth and strategy at Alba Wheels Up International, Inc., and an advisory committee co-chair, expressed the trade community’s support. “All of the outgoing COAC members are committed to a smooth transition. We’re doing our best to ensure that the momentum flows,” he said.
Julie Ann Parks, the committee’s other co-chair and the director of Raytheon Company’s global trade organization, spoke about some of the issues that should be given priority as the COAC continues its work. She cited a survey the COAC conducted in 2014 that illuminated the priorities of the trade community. “The programs that are most beneficial to the trade are those that reduce the bottom line for our companies,” she said. “That means keeping the pressure on automating and removing paper. That means putting together trusted trader programs that lessen the haystack to make it easier to find the needle.”
Parks also noted that she wanted to make sure that having a coordinated border management approach stayed at the forefront for the COAC. “We’ve done a lot of work with the Border Interagency Executive Council, comprised of the senior leadership from the various federal agencies, to assist CBP in rounding out the mission of the single window to be able to share information globally. We want to applaud those efforts and we want to continue them because the more that we can share a consistent global trading system, the better off we are as American companies doing business globally.”
Timothy Skud, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s deputy assistant secretary of tax, trade, and tariff policy, who also co-chaired the meeting with Acting Commissioner McAleenan, asked the trade advisory group for comments and suggestions on regulatory reform. “We appreciate any suggestion you have about regulations that we can eliminate or make less burdensome,” he said.
The meeting included updates on trade programs and COAC subcommittee work. Committee members presented 33 recommendations, which were unanimously passed. Fifteen of the recommendations pertained to exports, while the remaining 18 focused on antidumping, forced labor, and operational outage issues.
COAC member Amy Magnus, the director of customs affairs and compliance at A.N. Deringer, Inc., presented the recommendations from the newly formed Technical and Operations Outages working group. The group was formed in August after CBP’s cargo processing system, the Automated Commercial Environment, or ACE, experienced a near full-day system outage. “As we become more automated and more in a paperless environment, memories fade and people forget how to manage workloads when systems are not functioning as expected. As such, we have troubled times when the systems go down,” said Magnus. “So these recommendations are formed around what we can do together and how we might be able to minimize some of the disruption when the systems do go down by having carefully written policies that are uniform and national in scope.”
On a positive note, an update on the ACE system’s progress was shared. “We’re on track right now to complete the core trade processing capability in ACE by early 2018,” said Deborah Augustin, executive director of CBP’s trade transformation office. Augustin noted that the next release of core functions will take place in Dec. 2017. It will provide companies with capabilities for automated statements, electronic foreign trade zone admission, and manufacture ID creation. A final release of automated core capabilities is scheduled for Feb. 24, 2018. Its completion is expected to have a significant impact on U.S. trade, as ACE is the primary processing system—a single window through which trade-related data required by all government agencies is submitted and processed.
The progress of the trusted trader program was also discussed. “We’re encouraged that we actually are beginning to see a lot more momentum in terms of the trusted trader program itself,” said COAC member Mike Young, vice president of process and system services for Orient Overseas Container Line USA, Inc.
Young added that a review of the minimum security criteria within the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, or CTPAT, supply chain security program has been long overdue. “It has been a number of years, almost since its inception, that we’ve had some additional review of the minimum security criteria, particularly in cybersecurity,” Young said. “Cybersecurity is a significant factor overseas affecting almost everybody. A way to address cybersecurity more efficiently and effectively is to try to manage the capability and prevent some of the intrusions that create a lot of problems for all of us in international trade and personally. Under the leadership of Liz Schmelzinger, the new CTPAT director, we have moved forward significantly and we do see some future progress that will evolve over the next term.”
Emerging technologies was another topic highlighted at the meeting. At Acting Commissioner McAleenan’s request, the COAC formed a new working group on emerging technologies. “The goal of this committee is to monitor and advise CBP about emerging technologies and their potential use for trade and customs,” said COAC member Celeste Catano, the global product manager for supply chain software firm BluJay Solutions. “Just because the technology is out there, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right technology for customs purposes or U.S. trade.”
Catano explained that the working group is now assessing “blockchain,” a technology used by the financial industry to share information securely. “One of the areas we’re looking at is if blockchain can be used to secure certificates and licenses that are electronically submitted. A lot of licenses are generated by foreign governments and those documents have seals and signatures that have to be presented to customs when goods enter the country,” she said. “We want to make sure that the technology can prevent documents from being manipulated in any way.”
COAC is a 20-member advisory committee established by Congress 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 Miami in Feb. 2018. Prior to that, on Dec. 5-6, CBP will host the East Coast Trade Symposium in Atlanta.