James Swanson, director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Cargo Security and Control Division, hasn’t taken his eye off the agency’s goal to make the nation’s export manifest filing and review processes fully automated.
For the past year, CBP has conducted so-called electronic export manifest (EEM) pilots with ocean, air and rail carriers that require participants to supply the agency with information about exports prior to loading for departure from the U.S.
“There’s still some pieces that need to fall into place,” Swanson said in an interview. “Now that we’re getting there, I’m obviously putting a lot of effort into [electronic] export manifest.”
Under the current CBP export manifest filing process for ocean and air cargo, a paper manifest is supplied to the agency by the fourth day after sailing or flight. Separately, CBP also reviews Automated Export System “scheduled” transportation data that is filed by either the shipper or forwarder for possible risk and security concerns.
With the continued development of CBP’s Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), many paper documentation requirements for cross-border trade have gradually been replaced by electronic data transmissions. Paper export manifests, however, are still submitted to CBP by the carriers.
CBP presented its Electronic Export Manifest Business Process Document for Comment outlining its objectives for the process at the July 23-24 trade symposium in Chicago and requested industry feedback.
Swanson said the industry’s comments were slow coming at first but picked up from the various trade associations during August and September. Those comments currently are being reviewed and considered by Swanson’s staff for the EEM business process document.
“I’m hoping fairly shortly that we’re going to have the next version for review,” he said.
During initial testing with the carriers, CBP noted the most significant advance data elements for the electronic export manifest, which are contained in house bills and waybills, include total quantity and weight, cargo description, shipper name and address, consignee name and address, and departure schedule and port. House and air waybill numbers also are required in EEM.
EEM pilots require participating freight forwarders, which traditionally have filed their shippers’ export information in the Automated Export System (AES), to supply house bill- and air waybill-level details directly to CBP and then inform the carriers that they have completed the filing. The carriers submit their own master manifests electronically to CBP.
By receiving advance electronic export data CBP can conduct risk assessments on the cargo before it’s loaded on the outbound carrier.
Another benefit of the EEM pilots is that CBP can inform the carriers and forwarders at the same time when an examination hold has been placed on an export shipment.
Swanson said he would like to use the electronic export manifest test period to explore the arrangement for conducting CBP cargo exams away from the border.
“We can work out more agreeable arrangements with how to perform those export examinations, including things like the electronic exchange of documents via email and review based on that where applicable, as opposed to having to physically deliver [the cargo] to some place for an exam,” he said.
A problem for EEM pilot participants, however, remains the requirement to still provide CBP with the paper export manifests. Swanson said it is the agency’s goal, once the electronic export manifest becomes fully operational, to do away with the receipt of paper manifests altogether.
Swanson said there are currently 16 active transmitters (10 ocean carriers and service centers, four railroads and two air carriers) with at least twice as many more having conducted some form of EEM testing.
“Rail is probably the furthest along in terms of testing the functionality,” he said. “Some of them have used it. There are still some pieces that don’t work the way that we would like. We’re working through that. We want to get a few of the large rail carriers up and running as soon as possible.”
Swanson noted that most of the freight transportation industry’s third-party software providers have stayed tuned with the EEM pilots to prepare for eventual automation of export manifest filings.
“Getting [EEM] to the point where it’s fully operational will bring most of the testers on board,” he said. “Once we do that, we think the momentum will start to take over.”
Swanson said the agency plans to use the first quarter of the government’s new fiscal year, starting Oct. 1, to increase EEM participation among the three transport modes with the intent to further evaluate the pilot.
“I think that between three and six months I’d like to be able to report out our findings, get some feedback and determine at that point whether we need to make major adjustments or just minor tweaks and adjust the documentation and system where appropriate,” he said.
He added that the “ultimate goal” will be to change the current regulations and mandate advance electronic export manifest filing.
“We’re really hoping that we use [EEM] as a stepping stone of our overall modernization efforts,” Swanson said.
During the spring, CBP formed the Export Modernization Working Group within the Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee (COAC), the agency’s primary trade advisory group. One of the working group’s goals is to help the agency create the operational requirements for electronic export manifests and assist with moving the current EEM pilots into full operation.
Other initiatives underway within the Export Modernization Working Group include assisting CBP with developing a “21st Century Customs Framework” strategy to enhance enforcement and facilitation of exports, work with the agency to update tools and operations practices related to AES and collaborate with other COAC working groups and subcommittees to identify export equities and provide feedback and content including e-commerce and regulatory reform.