“Single Window” System for Import and Export Clearance - U.S. Government Nearing Completing of Migration to the Automated Commerce Environment by December 31st

By Melissa Miller Proctor

The ways in which in information and documentation is submitted by U.S. companies and processed by the various U.S. government agencies for the import and export clearance of merchandise has been undergoing a dramatic evolution since 2014 and is nearing completion. Imports and exports of merchandise from the United States have been transitioning from a paper-driven clearance regime to a “single window” electronic system. The Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) serves as this “single window” enabling importers and exporters to interface with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other federal government agencies (i.e., “Partnering Government Agencies” or “PGAs”) that have a hand in the admissibility of imported merchandise and authorization of exports from the United States. Instead of manually submitting often duplicative information and paper-driven data to multiple agencies as part of the cargo release processes, companies and their agents now electronically submit a single, harmonized set of data and upload required documentation into ACE which can then be accessed and processed by the various PGAs. In addition, the PGAs will be able to communicate with importers and exporters directly through ACE on any additional information requirements, scheduling and execution of examinations and inspections, cargo releases, protests and enforcement actions. 

The “single window” story began with the enactment of the Security and Accountability for Every (SAFE) Port Act of 2006, which first established the concept for the electronic collection and processing of international trade data by the various federal agencies. In February 2014, President Obama signed the Executive Order on Streamlining the Import and Export Processes for America’s Businesses (Executive Order 13659), which mandates the completion of the various PGAs’ integration into ACE by December 31, 2016. As a result, CBP rolled out a phased implementation plan to transition the PGAs to ACE by the December 31st deadline. 

With respect to exports from the United States, the Census Bureau and CBP migrated the AESDirect System to the ACE platform in March 2014. U.S. exporters submit Electronic Export Information (EEI) filings for certain shipments of commodities that will be exported from the United States to the Commerce Department’s Census Bureau. Specifically, EEIs are required to be filed for: 

  • Goods in a single shipment that are classified in the same HTSUS classification/Schedule B Code that are valued over $2,500; 
  • Exports of all items that are subject to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) regardless of their value; 
  • Exports that are subject to licenses, permits or other authorizations issued by other federal agencies; 
  • Items that will be exported to countries identified in Country Group E:1 in the Export Administration Regulations (i.e., Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria and the Crimea Region);
  • Items classified in 500-series or 600-series Export Control Classification Numbers (ECCNs) on the Commerce Control List of the Export Administration Regulations; 
  • Items exported under License Exception Strategic Trade Authority (STA) of the Export Administration Regulations; and, 
  • Exports of rough diamonds. 

The Census Bureau uses the export shipment data reported in the EEIs for the collection of annual foreign trade statistics, and agencies such as CBP, Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, among others, access exporters’ EEI filings for export enforcement purposes. Prior to the “single window” migration process, EEIs were filed electronically through the Automated Export System (AES) using AESDirect functionality. Now, U.S. exporters file their EEIs through the ACE Secure Data portal. 

ACE also allows U.S. exporters to generate ACE Export Reports which provide the data elements that were filed in their EEI filings going back five (5) years in time. Note that these reports are confidential and are only made available to the U.S. exporters on whose behalf the EEIs were filed. Many U.S. exporters run ACE Export Reports for purposes of export compliance risk assessments, regular internal self-auditing, and the periodic auditing of their forwarders, couriers or filing agents responsible for preparing and submitting the required EEIs into ACE. 

With respect to imports, as noted above, CBP has been working to transition its entry and entry summary filing processes to ACE, as well as collaborating with the various PGAs on their respective migrations to ACE in order to comply with the mandates of Executive Order 13659. CBP rolled out a phased implementation plan for migration, and many PGAs have already transitioned to ACE. For example—

  • May 1, 2015: Deadline for the use of ACE for the filing of all import or export manifest data for all modes of transportation (air, rail, ocean and truck);
  • March 31, 2016: Deadline for the use of ACE to file import entry summaries and APHIS Lacey Act and NHTSA data for the following entry types: consumption (01); consumption-AD/CVD (03); informal (11); temporary importation bond (23); Defense Contract Administration Service Region (DCASR); Government-Dutiable (52)—these entries can no longer be filed in the Automated Commercial System (ACS) after March 1, 2016. 
  • May 28, 2016: Deadline for the use of ACE to file import entries and corresponding entry summaries for consumption – foreign trade zone (06) entries without quota merchandise and/or AD/CVD, without PGA data or with APHIS Lacey Act or NHTSA data;
  • June 15, 2016: Deadline for the use of ACE to file import entries and corresponding entry summaries for the following entry types with FDA data: consumption (01); consumption-AD/CVD (03); consumption – foreign trade zone without quota and/or AD/CVD (06); informal (11); temporary importation bond (23); Defense Contract Administration Service Region (DCASR); Government-Dutiable (52);
  • July 23, 2016: Deadline for the use of ACE to file import entries and corresponding entry summaries for the following entry types: consumption – quota/visa (02); consumption – AD/CVD and quota/visa combination (07); information – quota/visa (12); warehouse (21); re-warehouse (22); warehouse withdrawal consumption (31); warehouse withdrawal – quota (32); warehouse withdrawal – AD/CVD (34); warehouse withdrawal – AD/CVD and quota/visa combination (38);
  • August 27, 2016: Deadline for importers’ use of ACE to file protests with CBP with respect to imports of merchandise into the United States;
  • October 1, 2016: Anticipated deadline for the use of ACE to file all remaining electronic portions of the CBP cargo process (i.e., duty deferrals, drawback, reconciliation, statement with associated collections functions, and liquidation);

Other PGAs are currently engaged in ACE pilot programs, and the filing of their required data in ACE has not yet become mandatory. Such PGAs currently include: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Directorate of Defense Trade Controls; U.S. Department of Agriculture – Food Safety and Inspection Service; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – National Marine Fisheries Service; Alcohol, Tobacco and Tax Bureau; US Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Marketing Service; Consumer Product Safety Commission; Environmental Protection Agency; Drug Enforcement Agency; Fish and Wildlife Service; and Office of Marine Conservation.

For more information on ACE and the status of the deployment of PGA requirements in ACE, see CBP’s website.