First Meeting of 14th Term of Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations
A spirit of cooperation was the prevailing mood when members of the new, 14th term Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, otherwise known as COAC, gathered in Washington, D.C., for their first public meeting Friday, April 24.
The COAC, comprised of 20 appointed members from the international trade community, 12 of whom are new this term, were welcomed and sworn-in by CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske, who co-chaired the proceedings. “On behalf of all of us at CBP, we’re very appreciative of your being here and the work, the support, and the help that you provide,” said Commissioner Kerlikowske.
The commissioner spoke about the previous session during his opening remarks. “The 13th term of COAC was challenging, but it also was very productive,” he said. “That term helped us take some important steps forward, identifying ways to improve our processes and programs, things that will benefit the economy and things that we hope will expedite our ability to do our job and hopefully help industry. A lot of people put a lot of time into those recommendations and into that work,” said Commissioner Kerlikowske.
The commissioner added the 14th term COAC members also will have lots of challenges. “Trade transformation efforts will continue and the role that you play is crucial,” he said. “As we continue to see international trade grow and the threats to our economy continue, the guiding principles of predictability, transparency, and flexibility will allow us to be better prepared to keep our economy safe and more effectively respond to the needs of global business.”
Timothy Skud, the deputy assistant secretary of tax, trade, and tariff policy for the U.S. Department of Treasury co-chaired the meeting and welcomed the new COAC members. “One area where the committee can be very helpful is providing advice on issues. We have issues on our plate that the government is grappling with,” he said. “But we’re also interested in other issues that concern you. Tell us what we don’t know, or what we might not appreciate the impact of, or what’s wrong. We look to this committee as a source of that kind of information.”
One of the two COAC member co-chairs, Julie Parks, who is the leader of Raytheon Company’s global trade organization, spoke on behalf of the group. “We welcome the opportunity to serve on the 14th COAC and to provide some good insight to the government on where we need to take some of the strategic initiatives without high impact to business, but really benefit facilitation and the compliance that customs is looking for,” said Parks.
Fellow COAC co-chair, Vincent Iacopella, the executive vice president and president of the West Coast region of The Janel Group, a global provider of integrated logistics services, also expressed the committee’s interest in assisting the government with trade initiatives. Iacopella spoke about the Automated Commercial Environment, or ACE, CBP’s cargo processing system that is becoming a Single Window for the trade community to submit import and export documentation required by all federal agencies.
“The COAC continues to strongly support President Obama’s executive order on February 19, 2014, which streamlines the import/export process for America’s businesses, specifically through ACE,” said Iacopella. “We hope to support CBP through continued discussions, communication and metrics. We fully support the Single Window and ACE implementation … and we are looking forward to working with CBP and partner government agencies to achieve this goal together.”
The meeting included updates on trade programs and COAC subcommittee work. The first topic discussed was ACE. “Our first mandatory use date for ACE implementation is right around the corner,” said Deborah Augustin, the acting executive director of CBP’s ACE Business Office. “We’re looking at the mandatory filing of electronic manifest on May 1st, which is just about a week away.”
“We have put firm timelines in place to reach our goals,” said Cynthia Whittenburg, CBP’s executive director of trade policy and programs. “We know that oftentimes these types of timelines seem painful, but in order to make real progress, this is something we need to do. We are open to hearing your thoughts on solutions and we will continue to come up with the best strategies.”
Another project that was discussed is a pilot that the Consumer Product Safety Commission plans to launch in early 2016 to test the electronic filing of certificates of conformity for products regulated by the commission. The certificates, which indicate compliance requirements have been met for CPSC regulated products, give consumers assurance that products purchased in the U.S. are safe. Electronic filing of the certificates will expedite the release of cargo into the marketplace. “We’re an independent agency not bound by the executive order, but at the same time we’re trying to facilitate trade on things that we regulate,” said Carol Cave, assistant executive director of CPSC’s Office of Import Surveillance.
The Trade Enforcement and Revenue Collection subcommittee talked about E-bonds, one of the most important modernization efforts completed in the ACE cargo processing system. “We’ve been able to get a bond on file now in about five seconds, whereas before it took about five business days to process. The time savings has been amazing,” said Lisa Gelsomino, a new COAC member who is the president, CEO and partner of Avalon Risk Management, an insurance and surety provider for logistics firms.
In addition to time metrics, COAC co-chair Vincent Iacopella pointed out that “There is also a substantial reduction in transaction costs.”
The safe and expedited movement of cargo through the global supply chain was also discussed. “The 13th COAC was very ambitious and bilaterally we’ve had quite a few initiatives that required a great deal of effort legislatively in the United States and with our partner countries,” said Ana Hinojosa, the deputy assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of International Affairs. “We’re starting to see some of the fruits of our labor from a lot of hard work. Hinojosa, who is currently a candidate for the World Customs Organization’s director of compliance and facilitation, noted that negotiations of a land, rail, marine and air pre-clearance agreement with Canada are finalized and pre-inspection pilots with Mexico are moving forward.
Earlier in the discussion, Commissioner Kerlikowske mentioned the World Economic Forum has found that removing supply chain barriers can increase the global economy up to six times more than removing all tariffs. “This underscores the value that COAC can have, helping us modernize and streamline our operations to provide real benefit to the global economy,” he said.
A total of nine recommendations were unanimously passed during the meeting. Six of the recommendations pertained to the CPSC Alpha Pilot. The remaining three focused on the implementation of the Single Window. All of the recommendations fell under the One U.S. Government at the Border Subcommittee’s purview.
COAC is a 20-member advisory committee that was 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 Chicago July 29.
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.