Census issues rule on electronic export documents
The U.S. Census Bureau today published a final rule for mandatory electronic filing of shippers’ export declarations.
Three years in the waiting after first being proposed, the rules will eliminate the use of paper documentation and require exporters to use the agency’s Automated Export System or AES Direct Web portal. Census will maintain its moratorium on post-departure filing of export documents, according to the document. The rule also clarifies a host of disparate federal trade regulations.
Shippers' NewsWire initially reported publishing of the final rule Friday.
The Census Bureau uses the export data to compile the nation’s trade statistics, while Customs and Border Protection and other agencies use it to stop illicit exports to unauthorized users or determine violations of export control laws.
Electronic filing, ordered by Congress in September 2002, allows for advance screening of data for potential violations prior to export as well as more timely and accurate trade statistics. The agency set deadlines for filing the export declaration that parallel requirements for advance manifest filing on the import side. The deadlines are:
' Twenty-four hours prior to loading for ocean cargo.
' Two hours prior to scheduled departure for air cargo.
' One hour prior to arrival at the border for truck cargo.
' Two hours prior to arrival at the border for rail cargo.
The rulemaking was held up by an inter-agency dispute between Census and the Department of Homeland Security over sharing confidential export data and allowing companies to file their export documents up to 10 days after a shipment has left the country rather than before departure.
DHS and its CBP branch wanted Census to eliminate post-departure filing in AES altogether because it is perceived as a security loophole in stopping illegal exports. Census placed a moratorium on expanding Option 4 filing, as it is known, in September 2003 because it felt tighter requirements were needed for accepting new companies into the program, but CBP and DHS do not want existing companies grandfathered into the regulations.
There are about 1,800 companies with Option 4 privileges, which agricultural and other bulk shippers in particular say are necessary because the value, weight or quantity of a shipment isn’t fully calculated or available until it is loaded on a vessel. The moratorium means that only companies already accepted in the program may file post-departure shippers’ export declarations.
The moratorium supersedes language retained in the rule that lays out the application procedures for Option 4 privileges.
“Everything’s on the table,” said Harvey Monk, assistant director for economic programs at Census, of ongoing negotiations with DHS on how to resolve the post-departure filing controversy.
DHS also wanted the ability to share export data with foreign governments for antiterrorism purposes and to receive blanket, rather than case-by-case, permission to share the export information with other agencies. Census has fought hard to protect the integrity of the information exporters divulge and opposes sharing with foreign governments because of fears the information could be accessed by unauthorized parties and place U.S. exporters at a commercial disadvantage.
Census and DHS have agreed to disagree for the time being in order to get the mandatory AES regulations implemented, according to industry sources familiar with the situation.
Monk said the biggest sticking point is the desire to share export data with foreign governments. The Commerce Secretary frequently issues national interest determinations that allow sharing of data with other U.S. agencies.
“From our perspective, data sharing with other agencies is not really an issue. I think where the issue has been more difficult has been the desire to share data with foreign governments. We’re on the record that we oppose unfettered, wholesale sharing of information with foreign governments,” Monk said in a phone interview.
The rulemaking attempts to make export compliance easier by including sections on definitions, voluntary self-disclosure, proof-of-filing citations, appendices cross referencing the pre-existing and new requirements, and Monk said the rules will be available on a CD and be searchable to make them more user friendly.
The self-disclosure procedures apply to serious situations in which shippers fail to file export documents or have faulty export software that systematically causes them to make errors. The proof-of-filing is a document that must be presented to the freight carrier that includes an Internal Transaction Number generated by Census. Other documents the carrier may need to proceed with loading an export are vouchers when AES is out of service and an ITN number is not available, as well as exclusions (shipping to U.S. territories, for example) and exemptions (such as for low value cargo).
Requirements differ for goods on the U.S. Munitions List.
The rule also incorporates in one document many foreign trade statistical interpretations issued during the past several years and modifications made to the proposed rule based on public comments.
Monk said the export industry appears ready to make the transition to e-filing, especially considering that there are only 25,000 to 30,000 paper documents out of 1.2 million SEDs filed each month.
“So we’re pretty close to being fully electronic anyway,” he said.
The final rule will go into effect on July 2 and become effective on Sept. 30. The AES announcement is available online in the Federal Register at edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/E8-12133.htm ' Eric Kulisch