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How to be compliant when it comes to online prenotification

WASHINGTON, D.C. - When, how and why carriers should become ACE (Automated Customs Environment) compliant was the main topic of a seminar given by U.S. Customs officials and eager third party service...

WHEN IN ROME: U.S. Customs wants you to get your info to the border on time, and via the Net. How you do it is up to you.

WHEN IN ROME: U.S. Customs wants you to get your info to the border on time, and via the Net. How you do it is up to you.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – When, how and why carriers should become ACE (Automated Customs Environment) compliant was the main topic of a seminar given by U.S. Customs officials and eager third party service suppliers at the Doubletree International Hotel in June.

The seminar, organized by the Ontario Trucking Association and sponsored by several software and service suppliers, aimed to present carriers with options when it comes to how they should go about sending their truck manifest information to U.S. Customs in a fully computerized environment.

In the end, when it comes to determining what would work best for your company in terms of return on investment, size is what matters – the size of your company that is.

But to begin at the beginning – ACE is the new U.S. Customs requirement for the reporting of items to be imported into the country. The new system requires that the prenotification information you’ve already been sending in ahead of time be sent via the Internet.

And while the U.S. government has yet to establish a deadline for the implementation of ACE for truck manifests, the government thinks it’s about time carriers started preparing themselves – by registering with ACE and by deciding just how they plan to send the required information.

“You don’t want to get caught getting registered and having to decide how to go about reporting once the government gives notice and you only have 60 days to comply,” pointed out one U.S. Customs official, who did, however, admit that Customs may implement a “soft” enforcement period to start out, and that not all land ports will be going online at the same time.

Do it yourselfers, (or carriers with IT resources) who resent the thought of yet another service provider entering the industry for monetary gain (potentially at the expense of carriers), will be glad to learn that it is possible to send information online directly to U.S. Customs, without the help of a service provider.

Access to an ACE account and the reporting portal is free – although the cost of hiring personnel, buying hardware and software, reorganizing how your company handles information about loads and importers and coming up with a viable and reliable way to make sure information is reported to Customs on time, is not.

Still, U.S. Customs is willing to work with you on developing your reporting system if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.

To this end, Customs officials at the seminar provided the following outline of how you can go ahead and create your own ACE portal account and reporting system.

Step One: First, you have to establish an ACE truck Carrier Account, by submitting an application via e-mail to

Your application should include the following information: your carrier name, your standard carrier alpha code (SCAC). (A carrier may obtain a SCAC code by contacting the National Motor Freight Traffic Association, Inc., 2200 Mill Rd., Alexandria, VA 22314-4654 or Carriers should fax their NMFTA Letter of Notification to the CBP SCAC Registration Office at (703) 921-7173. If an owner/operator or other small carrier is contracted to transport the merchandise across the border for a larger carrier that provides the pro-bill/bill of lading, the billing carrier should be identified in the transaction.) The application should also include a statement certifying that you are capable of connecting to the Internet, and your name, address and e-mail point of contact to receive further information.

Step Two is as follows: Customs and Border Protection will respond to your request via e-mail and direct you to a series of documents, including instructions for your new account. You will also be required to print out and sign a Power of Attorney document as well as an agreement on Terms and Conditions. These you must return via snail mail to the ACE Secure Data Portal, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 7501 Boston Blvd., Room 211, Springfield, Va.

Step Three: You will receive an ACE generated e-mail message containing a link to obtain a temporary password. Your CBP Account Manager (you will be assigned one) will then call you with the confidential information you will need to use the link.

You will then be able to log on to the ACE Secure Data Portal using the temporary password. If you forget the password you will be asked to answer challenge questions to gain access.

You will then be asked to create a new password.

Step Four: You will be asked to enter your corporate information and a point of contact into your account, and will then be allowed to use your ACE portal to enter data (by this time you should have already received a CD which will instruct you on how to enter your account data).

In theory, if not in practice, you should now be able to create e-manifests for loads heading to the border online, send them along to your Customs broker at the same time, and even save certain information files (like crew, equipment and conveyance) together so you don’t have to re-enter them every time they get a load.

Of course, if your company is just too big and busy for someone to be typing in one manifest at a time, you could further automate the process, by using an EDI (Electronic Data Exchange) system. This will require that you either use your IT people to develop software to pull the information Customs needs out of your current system, buy a software system that’s already been developed and have IT install it, or use a service provider.

Any of the above will still require that you register with U.S. Customs first.

Step One requires that you supply a letter of intent on company letterhead including the names and phone numbers of your company’s principal management and technical contacts, your company’s SCAC code, the ports of entry where your company’s vehicles regularly cross into the U.S. and the approximate number of times per month hat they do so at each location, and a description of your company’s data communications system (i.e. MQ/Frame or MQ/VPN or the system of a third party service provider if that’s the route you opt to go). If your are programming your own system you must also indicate whether you will be using ANSI X.12 or UN/EDIFACT messages. (If a data processing company is developing your system, you must include the data processing company’s name, contact person, telephone number and expected completion date for the programming/installation.)

Step Two: Once your letter of intent is received, a CBP Client Representative will be assigned to work with you and serve as your technical advisor during the development, testing, and implementation stages.

U.S. Customs officials at the seminar were apparently unable to overemphasize the importance of starting the ball rolling early, in order to be able to secure the attention of a Client Rep.

“You’ll get more attention if you are assigned a Client Rep now, than if you wait until the last minute,” said one official. “If you wait, chances are you won’t get as much attention and it will take longer to go through the whole process.”

That said, Step Two of the process begins when the Client Rep is assigned to and starts working with the carrier. Participants who will be transmitting electronic data directly to ACE may be required to sign an Interconnection Security Agreement.

(For more information on filing electronic truck manifest using EDI contact T.J. Cacanindin at )

Given the plethora of paperwork needed to start up ACE reporting, it’s no wonder third party service providers feel they’ve a valuable niche to fill.

And seminar sponsors were on hand at the seminar to let those in attendance know exactly how they could help them comply with the electronic truck manifest requirement.

Indeed, some sponsors said they’re already working with some major carriers on a temporary basis just to
help them make the transition to e-manifest reporting.

“You have to ask yourself, when it comes to electronic manifest reporting, whether your time and money is better spent elsewhere,” said Brian Bowen, a marketer for ViaSafe Inc. a provider of e-global logistics services.

ViaSafe was among the corporate sponsors of the seminar, all of offer software solutions to carriers who need help keeping up with the latest Customs reporting requirements. The company, headed by former Canadian Customs official Oryst Dydynsky, claims it currently facilitates over 40 per cent of all import transactions into Canada. (Other seminar sponsors included eCustoms, Crimson Logic and Smart Border.)

“Maybe you don’t have access to the kind of programming that’s available to companies with IT departments. Or maybe you just want to focus on other things,” said ViaSafe president Dydynsky. “The point is, doing it yourself isn’t necessarily the best option.”

Indeed, smaller carriers or O/Os who are also independent may prefer to phone ion information to a service provider like ViaSafe, which will then charge them on a per shipment basis, Dydynsky pointed out.

But then again, even large companies with drivers who move loads on the weekends may not have the resources to make sure those loads are reported electronically.

In other words, there’s a whole to consider when it comes to how you plan to comply with CBP’s e-manifest requirement.

And not much time, stresses U.S. Customs officials, who say Canadian carriers are already running late.

Still U.S. Customs has yet to announce when exactly trucks carrying loads into the U.S. via the northern border will have to comply.

This in part thanks to unforeseen delays in testing late last year and earlier this year.

The National Customs Automation Program (NCAP) test concerning the transmission of automated truck manifest data for truck carrier accounts was announced in a General Notice published in the Federal Register (69 FR 55167) Sept. 13, 2004. That notice stated that the test of the Automated Truck Manifest would be conducted in a phased approach, with primary deployment scheduled for no earlier than Nov. 29, 2004. The document identified the ports of Blaine, Wash., and Buffalo, N.Y. as the original deployment sites. The Sept.13, 2004, notice also stated that subsequent deployment of the test would occur at Champlain, N.Y.; Detroit, Mich.; Laredo, Tex.; Otay Mesa, Calif.; and Port Huron, Mich., on dates to be announced.

But that’s not what happened. The test commenced in Blaine, Wash., in December 2004 (but not at Buffalo, N.Y.) stalled for a period of time due to technical and logistical difficulties, and was completed April 14, 2005. In light of experience with the implementation of the test in Blaine, Wash., CBP announced May 31 of this year in the Federal Register it had decided to change the implementation schedule. Buffalo, N. Y., would not be one of the next test sites. By May, Customs had announced it would start testing at the southern border, at Arizona ports, in July. All of which has bought Canadian carriers some time to consider their plight.

But is there a silver lining to the ACE manifest requirement? Some would say yes, at least when it comes to taking the rap when Customs brokers report their manifest information late or incorrectly.

Carriers will be reporting their own information directly to Customs, which means they won’t have to pay a fine if their Customs brokers do it late. But they will still get held up at Customs or turned back if brokers don’t themselves report on time.

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