Acting Commissioner Winkowski Hosts Trade Advisory Committee in Washington
When the members of the Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations of Customs and Border Protection, otherwise known as COAC, convened in Washington, D.C., last Wednesday, they were encouraged to keep moving forward. "We've got a very aggressive, important agenda and we're staying the course," said CBP Acting Commissioner Thomas S. Winkowski, who co-chaired the meeting for the first time in his new, official capacity.
Winkowski assured the members that he would give them his full support. "COAC will continue to play a key role in providing us with advice and direction as we continue down the road of transforming how we handle trade," he said.
But as Winkowski noted, the next few years are going to be financially tough. "We continue to be faced with difficult times. That is why the work we're doing with COAC and the trade community is very, very important to us," he said. "We can't delay freight and we can't delay the movement of people. It's just not in the equation. We have to look at new and better ways of handling that process."
Reducing costs is a key factor said Winkowski. "If we're going to be successful, if we're going to be competitive around the globe, then we have to do things faster, we have to be more cost effective," he said.
Winkowski cited the recent automation of the I-94 form, previously used by travelers applying for admission at the U.S. ports of entry, as an excellent example. "By eliminating the I-94 form, we saved $18 million a year," said Winkowski. "And we gather more data through the automated environment than we did on that form. We need to continue to look for opportunities to reduce costs," he said.
The meeting, which also was co-chaired by Timothy Skud, the U.S. Department of Treasury's deputy assistant secretary of tax, trade, and tariff policy, included updates on trade programs and COAC subcommittee work. Among the topics discussed was the Trade Efficiency Survey. The survey, which was published in August 2012, included responses from nearly 550 companies, brokers, carriers, freight forwarders, exporters and importers. "We were looking to establish a baseline of metrics that would direct us to the areas most meaningful to the trade," said Julie Ann Parks, a COAC member who is the senior manager for export/import operations at the Raytheon Company.
The COAC members found the survey results so valuable that they decided to produce the document annually. "We will be sending the 2013 survey out in June," said Parks. "We're looking for good participation from the trade community."
The Air Cargo Advance Screening pilot program, known as ACAS, was also discussed. The pilot, a joint effort with CBP, the Transportation Security Administration, and the air cargo community, has been recognized for its unparalleled success. "From the industry side, we see a key factor of its success being the practicality in which the program was planned and constructed," said Elizabeth Shaver, a COAC member who is the director of cargo services for Airlines for America. "As we move ACAS from a pilot into the regulatory period, a key goal with industry is to maintain the program's successful foundation as much as possible."
On a larger scale, Winkowski shared his vision for ACAS. "We need to keep in mind that we have an opportunity here to work with others around the globe to set an international standard," he said. "And I think that's really critical." Winkowski also noted that the program, which was launched in December 2010 in response to a foiled terrorist plot, has drawn worldwide support. "Just yesterday, I met with the government of India and ACAS was one of the areas that they were very interested in," he said. "They wanted to make sure that we all worked together to come up with the correct framework."
A formal announcement was made about the opening of the three remaining Centers of Excellence and Expertise. When the industry-specific centers open on June 3, 2013, there will be 10 centers in total. The three new centers will include a center for agriculture and prepared products based in Miami; a center for apparel, footwear, and textiles in San Francisco; and a center for consumer products and mass merchandising in Atlanta.
Initial results from a customer satisfaction survey regarding the Centers of Excellence and Expertise were also discussed. "Seventy-four percent of the respondents indicated that they were very satisfied with the level of service they received from the centers," said Brenda Smith, an executive director from CBP's Office of International Trade who directed the conceptual planning for the centers. Smith also noted that 96 percent of the respondents indicated that their issues had been resolved by contacting a center. "That really was the idea behind the centers," said Smith. "They were intended to be a one-stop shop, a place that understands the business model that an industry uses, and is able to bring resolution to a cause of concern."
Smith, who currently heads CBP's ACE Business Office, also gave an update on the Automated Commercial Environment, the agency's cargo processing system. She explained that earlier that week CBP had co-hosted a conference for software developers in Baltimore with the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America. "We had active discussions on the path forward for ACE," she said, pointing out that ACE is scheduled to be completed in early 2016. Following Smith's update, members of the COAC made a recommendation that CBP continue to move forward expeditiously with ACE according to a well-defined timeline.
Similarly, in support of President Obama's National Export Initiative, which has a goal of doubling U.S. exports by the end of 2014, CBP is modernizing its export processing system. The current export system is being converted to ACE and new features are being added. Testing of the new export system is planned for this fall.
At the close of the meeting, the COAC members were asked to assist with trade enforcement efforts. Lev Kubiak, the director of the National Intellectual Property Rights Center, which is managed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, spoke about the challenges of protecting the country from smuggling activity. In particular, he shared the difficulties that were encountered in the mid-1990s with the illicit trade of ozone- depleting substances. With the phase out of another ozone-depleting substance in 2015, Kubiak said a significant increase in smuggling is anticipated and law enforcement officials wanted to strengthen their ties with the trade community. "What we didn't do as well as we should have back then was talk to legitimate industry-the brokers, the freight forwarders, the industry in the United States," said Kubiak. "I hope this body will help us change that dynamic."
COAC is a 20-member advisory committee that Congress established in 1987. The committee provides advice and recommendations to CBP and the Department of 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., on Aug. 7.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.