ACI e-manifest requirements are coming Nov. 1. For real, this time.

by James Menzies

OTTAWA, Ont. – Canada Border Services Agency’s (CBSA) Advanced Commercial Information (ACI) e-manifest program for Canada-bound loads is set to go into effect Nov. 1. For real, this time. They swear.

The program, Canada’s answer to CBP’s ACE, was initially set to be rolled out in June 2010, and then in September of that year and then it was pushed back to Oct. 31, 2010 before being suspended indefinitely. One key piece of the puzzle was conspicuously absent all along; a CBSA portal that carriers could use to file their Customs documentation. That didn’t come online until August 2011. Now, CBSA insists it’s ready to roll out ACI in earnest.

In short, e-manifest requirements will work this way, as explained on the CBSA Web site: “With the implementation of
e-manifest, highway carriers transporting goods into Canada are required to transmit cargo and conveyance data electronically to the CBSA prior to arrival. The cargo and conveyance data must be received and validated by the CBSA a minimum of one hour before the shipment arrives at the border.”

But how prepared is the motor carrier community? The large fleets and Customs brokers are already filing much of their documentation electronically, as required under ACI. But what about the small to mid-sized fleets?

According to Amitha Carnadin, media relations spokesperson with CBSA, 932 active business accounts have been created to use the portal, which can be found online at

That represents a startlingly small proportion of Canada’s cross-border trucking industry. Since the portal went live last August, 255 carriers have used it to file 32,882 submissions.

It’s worth noting, not all carriers will choose to use the CBSA portal. Large fleets can build their own electronic data interchange (EDI) clients and fleets of all sizes can rely on third-party service providers. Still, the CBSA portal was meant to be a user-friendly, cost-effective (it’s free to use) way to transmit data for small and mid-sized fleets and it appears few have signed up for the service just weeks before the program is launched.

The CBSA is now urging carriers to get up to speed with the program before the new e-manifest requirements go into effect.

“The Agency strongly encourages clients to adopt e-manifest requirements before they become mandatory,” Carnadin said in an e-mail to Truck News. She pointed out early adopters benefit from: more time to adjust to the process and address problems; a vast collection of online resources and tools; and reduced likelihood of non-compliance when enforcement begins. (CBSA told Truck News there’ll be a period “to encourage informed compliance” before fines are assessed, but the agency didn’t specify how long that period would be).

Carriers interested in using the portal should go to the site, file for a CBSA-issued carrier code and then choose a method of filing information.

High-volume carriers are encouraged to explore EDI options, while the portal itself was developed primarily for small and mid-sized carriers. Fleets looking to choose the EDI method must first apply to become an EDI client, and then compatibility testing with CBSA’s e-manifest Technical Support Unit could take two to three months to complete.

“The transmission of advanced commercial information to the CBSA using either the e-manifest portal or an EDI method and with or without a third-party service provider is an individual business decision,” Carnadin said.

Carriers that have been early adopters of ACI report “expedited processing at the border upon arrival into Canada,” Carnadin said.

Customs brokers, by and large, have been among the first to explore the CBSA portal in detail. Shirley Smith, president of Buckland Customs Brokers, said her staff finds the portal to be well designed, all in all.

“I don’t know if it’s as good as CBP’s portal,” she said. “They have a very good portal. But certainly we’ve done some testing on it (CBSA’s portal) and from a carrier perspective, it seems to be adequate.”

The biggest flaw noticed in the CBSA’s portal is its inability to store user data, which would make it easier to file information related to repetitive loads. An in-house solution, or one developed by a third-party service provider typically would allow the user to save certain information so they don’t have to re-enter it every time they use the site.

Still, Smith said she thinks the CBSA portal will be a good option for small carriers that aren’t constantly crossing the border. A key difference between the CBSA portal and that of the US CBP is that the American portal requires driver information whereas the Canadian portal does not.

“I think not requiring the driver immigration data makes it much simpler than the US model, where you also had to have the driver’s information as well,” she said.

Smith says her firm already files 98% of its documentation electronically and she hopes the CBSA sticks to its guns and rolls out the program already.

“I think CBSA has done a fairly good job in getting the information out to the various industry sectors in all the logistics disciplines,” she said. “From our standpoint, there’s been some frustration in that the timeline keeps getting pushed out, so it becomes very difficult to prepare.”

The big question may be whether or not there will be pandemonium at the Canada border on Nov. 1, as thousands of trucks arrive at the border oblivious to the new requirements? CBSA doesn’t think that’ll be the case.

“The CBSA is making every effort to prepare for the implementation of the new requirements for advanced electronic trade data, with a view to delivering a reliable and predictable commercial processing system with tangible benefits to the trade community,” Carnadin said via e-mail.

“We are well poised to address any increases in traffic volumes and will make adjustments as needed. Our officers are fully trained and equipped to handle the new requirements. The agency strongly encourages clients to adopt e-manifest requirements before they become mandatory.”

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