Momentum Continues when Trade Advisory Committee Convenes in Washington
When members of the Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, also known as COAC, met in Washington, D.C., Oct. 29, for their third session this year, their top priority was discussing the completion of a government-wide, “single window” cargo processing system that will expedite the flow of U.S. imports and exports.
According to an executive order signed by President Obama, the single window must be completed by December 2016. The single window will allow businesses to electronically transmit trade data required by the U.S. government to import or export cargo. The automated shipment data will enable government agencies to make near-real time decisions, which will reduce costs for businesses and the government. While the single window will be highly beneficial to the U.S. economy, its completion entails shifting from an old cargo processing system to a new one, the Automated Commercial Environment, or ACE. The transition has taken years and has been a heavy lift for all parties involved.
“This is really the major development in how industry interacts with the U.S. government,” said CBP Deputy Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan, who co-chaired the proceedings. We’ve made a lot of progress, but we have a lot more to do together on this. This vision will have a major impact on how we move trade across our borders.”
Since the COAC’s last meeting in July, Deputy Commissioner McAleenan noted that the number of shipments released into U.S. commerce using the ACE system has grown by approximately 10 percent. He also pointed out that transactions completed in ACE have increased to just under 70 percent. “None of this would have been possible without the hard work of industry partners like you as well as numerous agencies across the federal government,” he said.
The Deputy Commissioner flagged three key dates. “On November 1st, we will begin the transition to make ACE the single system for the filing of all data that’s needed for the release of cargo as well as entry summary,” he said. The transition will continue through two milestones next year—one in February and the other in July 2016. “To better prepare for these milestones, we are working closely with COAC as well as our trade partners more broadly to encourage an increase in filing in ACE as soon as possible for the most common import transactions,” he said.
More specifically, the Deputy Commissioner said that the agency is contacting the top 200 filers along with smaller, local filers to assist with the transition to ACE. “This is an all hands on deck effort from CBP, from our interagency partners, from the trade community, and from our ambassadors here at COAC to increase awareness,” he said. "We still have more to do and we really want to encourage this engagement.”
In closing, Deputy Commissioner McAleenan emphasized that “COAC plays a pivotal role from CBP’s perspective, helping us modernize our operations and provide real benefits to the global economy. Your involvement and our public engagement are key to that, and I look forward to hearing from you and talking through some of these critical issues today,” said the Deputy Commissioner.
Speaking on behalf of the COAC, Vincent Iacopella, one of the advisory committee’s co-chairs, underscored the significance of the single window. “The single window is probably the biggest data processing filing change we’ve had….It is both a tremendous challenge and a tremendous opportunity,” said Iacopella, who is the executive vice president and president of the West Coast region of The Janel Group, a global provider of integrated logistics services.
With the rapidly approaching deadline, pressure is building for companies to get on board. “We want early adopters. We need folks in the system to work with us through as many issues as possible early on,” said Cynthia Whittenburg, the executive director of CBP’s trade policy and programs division. “We cannot do this without the partnership of the trade community. We need you to be pioneers with us, to really blaze the trail for those coming behind you,” she said. Whittenburg added that she understood how tough the migration is from a business standpoint. “The fact is this is a monumental task to move from a significant amount of paper to an electronic environment. We all recognize the future benefits of this. But this is where we are now,” she said, “and we’ve got to go through this process so that we can see how we are going to refine and enhance the system post 2016.”
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 other trade programs and COAC subcommittee work. For example, the Trade Modernization Subcommittee discussed the progress of the Centers of Excellence and Expertise. In 2015, three of the 10 centers reached full operability, and Assistant Commissioner Todd Owen announced that the Apparel, Footwear and Textiles Center in San Francisco will become fully operational in December. The remaining six centers are scheduled to reach full maturity in 2016. “We’re going to look at the original concept of the centers and from there find the next level of objectives to see how they are evolving, what’s working, and what’s not,” said COAC member Lenny Feldman, who co-chairs the import/export practice group of Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, a customs and international trade consulting firm.
A total of 14 recommendations were unanimously passed during the meeting. Six of the recommendations pertained to exports, three to the global supply chain, and one to trade enforcement. The remaining recommendations focused on the implementation of the single window.
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 for January 2016.
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.