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COAC recommends moving CBP’s electronic export manifest forward

While Customs and Border Protection’s Automated Commercial Environment has automated much of the cross-border trade process, the U.S. export manifest process remains paper intensive and error prone.

James Swanson, director of CBP's Cargo Security and Control Division, welcomed the Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee's electronic export manifest recommendations during a meeting on Dec. 4. [Photo Credit: Glenn Fawcett/U.S. Customs and Border Protection]

An advisory group of private-sector trade compliance specialists recommended that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) moves forward with its effort to turn the current export manifest filing process paperless.

During a Dec. 4 meeting in Washington, D.C., CBP’s Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee (COAC) Export Modernization Working Group presented its recommendations to enhance the export manifest process, which the full committee approved.

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.

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Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), many paper documentation requirements for cross-border trade have gradually been replaced by electronic data transmissions.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.

In its effort to automate the export manifest filing process, COAC recommended that CBP collaborate with the industry to “ensure that all critical control points are functional through testing of the data, assess the impact of the changes to process, as well as work with the trade on how the regulations can be developed and changed where necessary.”

COAC also said during the development of an electronic export manifest system that CBP’s regulatory changes and policy guidelines must be “clear and concise” for the both the trade and the agency’s officers at the ports.

In its third recommendation, the committee emphasized that the data elements for both the Electronic Export Information (EEI) and manifest filing clearly define the owners of the data, those who are responsible for the data and those who may be doing the filing.

The “mapping” of the electronic export manifest processing should also define other government agency data requirements and consider eliminating redundant or unnecessary data to “achieve more accurate filings.”

In addition, COAC recommended the agency work with the Census Bureau’s Foreign Trade Division to “align CBP’s enforcement policy and mitigation guidelines to consider the unintended consequences of the current enforcement environment regarding Electronic Export Information (EEI) and manifest data that often hinders the collection of accurate data.”

CBP’s director of the Cargo Security and Control Division, James Swanson, who is leading the agency’s initiative to automate the export manifest process, said the COAC recommendations “identify that we need clarity. We need significant modernization in the way we do this. And we need the ability to collect discreet data elements from the parties that own that data.”

He added that it will be essential to “integrate the [export manifest] data on the back end so that we can do effective screening and ultimately effective enforcement.”

The “biggest pain point” for the industry with the existing export manifest process, Swanson said, is dealing with so-called “parking ticket” penalties related to data filing errors. 

“We have found that many of the parking ticket-type violations we’re issuing to be unavoidable. It was as if the no-parking signs are moving on people and they couldn’t control the outcome,” he said. 

Swanson said CBP is currently working with Census and other agencies on the export data filing regulations to develop clearer guidelines for the industry to minimize those penalties. “We want to make sure we’re effective in our enforcement,” he added.

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.