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Rock-it Cargo uses first US electronic goods passport for special delivery

Amanda Barlow, vice president of risk management and business affairs at Rock-it Cargo, and Declan Daly, chief operating officer at the U.S. Council for International Business, with TPi Awards microphones imported to the U.K. with a new electronic ATA Carnet. (Photo: USCIB)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — On Tuesday, the master of ceremonies will use a pair of bejeweled microphones on stage at a major awards ceremony in London after logistics company Rock-it Cargo hand-carried them from New York with the help of the first electronic “passport for goods” ever issued in the United States.

The delivery kicks off the test phase of electronic ATA Carnet processing by the U.S. Council for International Business (USCIB), in collaboration with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and private sector partners.

An ATA Carnet is a special export document that simplifies customs procedures for the temporary admission of merchandise, such as artwork or booths for trade shows, free of duties and taxes for up to one year. The initials ATA are an acronym of the French and English words Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission. The concept was adopted in 1961 by the predecessor to the World Customs Organization to foster trade, especially in war-debilitated Europe following World War II.

Carnets, until now exclusively paper-based, are issued and guaranteed by national groups under conditions established by the International Bureau of Chambers of Commerce. Customs authorities in more than 80 countries and territories accept the Carnet as a guarantee that all duties and taxes will be paid if the Carnet is misused. The U.S. issues over 17,000 Carnets per year, covering goods valued at over $2 billion. The global system annually issues close to 200,000 ATA Carnets for goods valued at over $25 billion dollars. 

ATA Carnets help shippers, especially smaller enterprises, explore new markets, promote goods and services and attend trade shows, saving time and money. Other types of goods that frequently benefit from Carnets include apparel for fashion shows and photo shoots, testing devices, product samples, and equipment for movie and film sets. Items covered by the document generally aren’t imported for sale.

ATA Carnets are critical to the success of live event tours that cross international borders because they enable production equipment and gear to arrive on time and ready for the show.

The TPi Awards will take place Tuesday with special microphones imported from the U.S. using an eATA Carnet. (Photo TPi)

“For live entertainment, it’s fantastic. If you’re doing a show in the United States and you’re going to the U.K., doing another show in France and then off to Switzerland, every single one of those countries requires a customs entry and a customs declaration. Versus the ATA Carnet is a booklet like your personal passport, but covers all that tour gear all the way through for the entire world tour,” Amanda Barlow, vice president of risk management and business affairs at Rock-it Cargo, said in an interview at the AirCargo 2024 conference here.

Rock-it Cargo is part of Global Critical Logistics, a holding company that controls six other specialty logistics brands and is owned by investment group ATL Partners. On Jan. 31, Rock-it Cargo acquired SOS Global, a North Carolina-based freight forwarder from NEP Group. SOS specializes in logistics services for live events, particularly in the sports and broadcast industries. It serves every major U.S. sports and news broadcaster, major domestic  professional sports leagues, and many large vendors to those companies.

The transaction bolsters Global Critical Logistics’ domestic capabilities. In 2023, more than 85% of GCL’s revenue was earned from international shipments whereas a majority of SOS’ revenue was earned domestically.

Barlow carried the Sennheiser microphones, designed by Emmy Award-winning costume designer Perry Meek, from John F. Kennedy International Airport to London Heathrow Airport for  the TPi Awards Ceremony, which celebrates excellence in the live events industry. The “merchandise passport” was on Barlow’s smartphone. After the show, she will bring the microphones back to the United States.

TPI is a trade publication that covers the concert industry.

USCIB said it chose Rock-it Cargo to pilot the digital “merchandise passport” because it is one of the largest ATA Carnet users in the U.S., with global experience moving time-critical freight for the live entertainment and TV and film production industries.

Like other legacy paper processes, the ATA Carnet needs to modernize if it is to facilitate trade, said Barlow. U.S. Customs, for example, for years has required import documents to be filed through its automated commercial portal, improving processing efficiency and security.

“For the ATA Carnet to stay relevant as a valuable tool for our industries, we had to figure out a digital solution,” she told FreightWaves, adding that eATA Carnets will coexist with paper versions until all customs administrations have the full electronic capabilities to handle the digital passport.

“I foresee it being limited to bilateral agreements, expanding on the World Customs Organization convention, starting with the U.S. and the U.K., U.S.-Canada, and the U.S. and France,” Barlow said, with a goal for full global adoption by the end of the decade.

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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He won Environmental Journalist of the Year from the Seahorse Freight Association in 2014 and was the group's 2013 Supply Chain Journalist of the Year. In December 2022, Eric was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. He has appeared on Marketplace, ABC News and National Public Radio to talk about logistics issues in the news. Eric is based in Vancouver, Washington. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]