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eManifest learning curve ongoing for carriers, Customs, brokers

OTTAWA, Ont. -- The fall 2013 deadline is approaching for the Canada Border Services Agency’s eManifest regulations.


OTTAWA, Ont. — The fall 2013 deadline is approaching for the Canada Border Services Agency’s eManifest regulations.

When fully implemented, eManifest will require carriers, freight forwarders and importers in all modes of transportation (air, marine, highway and rail) to electronically transmit advance commercial information to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) within prescribed mode-specific time frames.

Participating carriers and their supply chain partners have been working through some of the bugs and processes in the system.

Client uptake on eManifest has been good, said Michael Junek, manager, eManifest stakeholder consultations and implementation with CBSA in a conversation with Truck News.

“Generally it’s a positive story for us; we have 8,000 carriers with active accounts and we’ve targeted about 15,000. Whether they are choosing to submit today or not, at least they have registered. We are definitely focusing our outreach efforts on the small to medium carriers,” he said.

Junek confirmed there had been some portal issues in the month of June, but said that fixes were in place.

During the month of June there was a systems upgrade of sorts that caused some portal problems, such as time-outs, missing data, login problems, and lengthy waits to link shipments to trucks.

“Almost simultaneously as we were raising these issues, the CBSA was hearing from carriers as well. On June 20 they put a fix into the system, increasing bandwith to support volumes. There were some back-end fixes as well. We started to see that fix translate into the portal working smoother. Since then we really haven’t heard a lot in terms of complaints,” said Jennifer Fox, vice-president of Customs at the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA).

According to the CTA, in a letter to CEO David Bradley, CBSA’s president “validated the industry’s concerns regarding ACI and committed to addressing them as well as outlining an action plan.”

The list of concerns sent to CBSA was detailed and lengthy. A sample includes: slow portal service, especially in the afternoon; login issues; lengthy time (hours) to complete

eManifest; false screen display errors; system randomly kicking users out; customer service; and respect for commercial drivers, the CTA said.

“We recognize that it did have an impact, but we were able to fix the issues and contingency plans were followed during the outage,” Junek said.

“On EDI, we do a lot of work directly with carriers. We have regular conference calls and we can get up to 50 carriers participating on common issues. We do know there is a learning curve both from carriers and the trade community, and we work closely with our stakeholders to resolve those,” he said.

But he stressed that stakeholders need to come on board early and work through the system, especially since the period of informed compliance is in effect until the fall, with no penalties associated.

“It’s a major transformative project – the sooner carriers can get on board, the sooner they can get used to transmitting pre-arrival either with EDI or via the portal. Once people do get up to speed they find that it’s a more efficient system and works very well,” he said.

Clients can also take advantage of regular walk-throughs of the portal via webinars, noted Junek.

“We have received a positive response in terms of the contingencies and the solutions they’ve put in place. Since the end of June it’s been fairly quiet, but we are watching very closely,” said Fox. “When ACI (Advanced Commercial Information) was introduced and made voluntary, there were some issues. The industry has been very patient and understands that there is going to be a learning curve.”

In June, Eric Warren, vice-president of business development with Hercules Freight, contacted Truck News to report that two issues had been unfolding: a) drivers were still getting stopped at the border by officers not fully understanding the new lead sheets presented by drivers; and b) the Customs broker community as a whole did not understand the idiosyncrasies of the “port flip,” causing a higher level of freight being bonded to their terminals.

In March, Hercules moved to e-Manifest prior to which the company had been using the EDI highway cargo environment also known at CSA EDI since 2001.

“With eManifest, the broker has to have the entry at the corresponding port mirror the exact timing on the PARS (pre-arrival review system) release sheets. In the past we would send a PARS lead sheet for, say, 12 p.m. and they should set up their PARS prior to that time. However, in the past the broker could set it up at 1 p.m. for the frontier as a PARS, and it would accept the broker entry even though our trailer had crossed the frontier. With eManifest, if the broker were to attempt to set up a PARS entry after the date/time on our PARS lead sheet, they would get a reject message saying incorrect port, because we’ve electronically performed the “port flip” required in eManifest. The port flip, regardless of where the physical truck is, requires us prior to arriving at the frontier to electronically query the border to see if the PARS entry for the cargo control number has been entered by the broker. If it’s not entered by that moment, we electronically change the port from the frontier to the inland port even though our trailer is still physically on the US side. After this flip, the frontier clearance is no longer a viable option – period. Brokers which have not gotten the PARS entries in by the precise ETA on our lead sheets will receive the ‘wrong port’ and other error messages on their entry and some have accused us of sending bad data in and to ‘fix your data,’ but (they) really just don’t understand. Additionally, it is important for all to understand that the ‘re-arrival’ process is no longer an option under eManifest,” explained Warren.

“Broker (release request) and carrier (eManifest) information needs to match in the CBSA’s system to enable the BSO to make a release decision,” said CBSA spokesperson Amitha Carnadin. “In certain circumstances, brokers will receive reject notices to notify them that the release request information does not match the carrier’s eManifest information. Border services officers have been instructed to provide as much information as possible to allow the broker and the carrier to understand and properly amend the information prior to re-submitting to the CBSA for a release decision. Future system enhancements scheduled for July 2014 will reduce the frequency of this issue. In the meantime, the CBSA is looking at the current schedule of system modifications and deployments to determine if this functionality can be delivered sooner.”

In order to better understand the changes, Hercules’ response was to create a flowchart document that the company sent out to its supply chain partners.

“We drew up a flowchart and to determine where the gaps of understanding are, posted it on our Web site. The port flip we detailed is not illustrated well anywhere we could find in Customs documentation or in the press. From our change to eManifest in May, the result is we still receive more shipments currently at our inland terminals uncleared than we did prior to eManifest. We receive calls from Customs brokers saying ‘You did it wrong.’ We point everyone now to a link on our Web site with the flowchart of eManifest and the misunderstood port flip. Generally that fixes future occurrences with the same trade partner,” said Warren.

He said that Hercules also took the step of putting INPARS info on lead sheets. (He noted that some carriers are choosing not to for their own business reasons).

“We chose to do it to try to reduce the number of failed PARS shipments coming to our inland terminals. This indicates if they do not get the PARS clearance in by the exact time on the lead sheet, you will now need to set up INPARS and we supply that port information for them. We are a service-based carrier and we want the shipment to be out on the street, not waiting at our terminals for clearance. Since adding our INPARS information on our lead sheets, coupled with the flowchart on our Web site we point everyone to, this has contributed to a dramatic reduction in the number of shipments arriving inland in-bond,” said Warren.

“Regarding drivers being held at the border, CBSA indicated to us that training and communication to the officers was ongoing and we were in regular contact with the eManifest program officer,” Warren added. “We were pleased they were receptive and we have seen a dramatic improvement. Our drivers are very happy also.”

CBSA’s Junek said “We recently launched the regional external client support initiative at the highest volume ports, where officers have been given additional training for troubleshooting and client support, available 24/7.”

Officers are available to trouble-shoot and provide support to clients with processing issues on a 24/7 basis. Dedicated phone lines have been established and the numbers posted on the CBSA Web site to give clients direct access to these resources, he added.

Border services officers are supported by a national network of chiefs of operations across all regions who are directly connected to the eManifest project team to ensure effective two-way communications between headquarters and the operational realities at the ports of entry.

“The one other thing I could add is to stress the communications between supply chain partners, carriers talking to brokers. Moving to an electronic environment, that really does become key,” said Junek.

“CBSA has also made it a little clearer in terms of the messaging coming out of the technical support unit in terms of options when the carriers are experiencing issues. There’s a help desk for policy questions and e-manifest tech support. Carriers shouldn’t feel they have nowhere to go when they are experiencing problems,” said Fox.

Since it’s expected there could be an influx of carriers joining at the last minute, the CTA is hoping that some of the issues won’t be repeated, and that the portal system will be robust and sustainable.

“I certainly hope that CBSA will make this mandatory sooner rather than later. Many of the carriers have their systems and processes in place and are certainly waiting. They don’t want to incur additional costs unnecessarily. But if they pull the trigger, the system has to be sustainable and the carriers have to get their policy questions answered. They will have a lot of problems on their hands otherwise. Do carriers know what to do if there is a problem with the system? All this needs to be flushed out. After the issues we raised to them in June, they are very much aware of what they have to do before they make it mandatory,” said Fox. “In terms of the times the brokers need to set up what they need to do, that’s a tale as old as time. Carriers have always had difficulty working with brokers to get what they needed. We saw the same problem going southbound. That issue is not a CBSA issue and is certainly not going away. The only thing we can do is reinforce to the industry that these processes are going to mean carriers and brokers have to communicate more than ever before. This is the new normal. Maybe it doesn’t even involve the carrier but the brokers and importers.”

With time, she added, things will get better.

“We saw this with the ACE program roll-out. It’s more of a learning curve and more so with brokers and importers at this stage of the game. It’s all new for US shippers, brokers and importers, but there should not be a whole lot of surprises with Canadian carriers with ACI.”

“The intended outcome of e-Manifest is good, is great actually, when it’s all working and everyone is doing everything at the right times. So the whole program and its intention make a lot of sense. It’s just getting and communicating all the moving pieces out to the right people,” added Warren. “As of August 2013, we have seen a complete change in both the adaptation and understanding of the customs brokers and also the officers at the border, when compared to our experiences in March.”


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