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APHIS readies automation for plant, animal product imports

The U.S. Department of Agriculture agency looks forward to receiving import documentation through Customs and Border Protection’s International Trade Data System.

After nearly five years of development and testing, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said it is about ready to start receiving electronic data related to live plants and animal products from importers and customs brokers.

Nicole Russo, director of imports, regulations and manuals at APHIS, told attendees at the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America’s annual conference in Washington, DC, on Sept. 23 that the announcement by the agency will be published soon.

There will be a six- to nine-month implementation period, she said.

APHIS said the switch from paper documentation regarding live plant and animal products was made possible through its work with Customs and Border Protection to develop the required data sets and programming to participate in the International Trade Data System (ITDS).

ITDS, which traces its mandate to the 2006 Security and Accountability for Every Port Act, is the single portal system in CBP’s Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) to electronically collect and distribute import and export data required by other government agencies.

APHIS has accelerated its effort to participate in ITDS since 2016.

The agency has about 50 different forms that cover various import transactions involving live plants, animal products and live animals. 

Through the process of integrating these forms with ITDS, Russo said there are 37 essential data elements for all commodities overseen by APHIS, including six mandated by CBP. Overall additional data elements for the individual forms in ITDS range from 40 to 87, she said.

“It’s not new information,” Russo said. “It’s already asked for on paper. We’re now just asking for it electronically.”

APHIS said importers or their customs brokers are not prohibited from sending paper forms for imports to the agency. However, the agency warned that this method going forward “may result in slower customs review and increased costs due to longer review times for paper submissions, the potential for lost and/or delayed paperwork and the inability to anticipate issues.”

“This is a very important project,” Russo said, adding that the automated process will allow APHIS to more efficiently “flag those [shipments] that we want to inspect and those that we don’t.”

To assist plant and animal product importers and customs brokers with the transition to ITDS, APHIS will set up a telephone- and email-accessible support desk, Russo said.

For now, Russo said the only APHIS import documents that have not yet been converted to ITDS submissions due to their regulatory complexity involve live animals.

APHIS also participates in the International Plant Protection Convention’s electronic government-to-government portal for exchanging phytosanitary certificates. A yearlong pilot of the portal involving 10 countries, including the U.S., was concluded in March 2018.  

Russo said the long-term success of the electronic portal for exchanging phytosanitary certificates will depend on the number of countries that use it.

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Chris Gillis

Located in the Washington, D.C. area, Chris Gillis primarily reports on regulatory and legislative topics that impact cross-border trade. He joined American Shipper in 1994, shortly after graduating from Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Md., with a degree in international business and economics.
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