International Legal Affairs: V8N3


The ACE Secure Data Portal – Bringing International Transactions into the 21st Century.

For many years, the import/export community has relied upon a combination of paper and electronic submission of required documents. As the U.S. Government gets pulled into the 21st Century (albeit, sometimes reluctantly) we are beginning to see increased automation and efficiencies in the import/export realm. ATF established the E-Forms system several years ago, allowing the electronic submission of import permit applications. Similarly, U.S. Customs and Border Protection established the Automated Export System (AES) as a means of electronically filing export paperwork. Despite AES, Customs entries for incoming shipments still required submission of clearance documents in paper format. Outbound shipments required exporters to present paper copies of export paperwork in person, so that CBP could enter the data into their system.

Under the legacy AES system, industry members were the nexus of all information. Importers filed for, and received ATF Form 6 import permits. Importers then filed the ATF Form 6 with U.S. Customs upon arrival. An ATF Form 6A was presented to U.S. Customs for execution. There was no way for U.S. Customs to speak directly with ATF without significant effort. Similarly, exporters applied for, and received BIS and DDTC export licenses. DSP5 export licenses were presented in paper format by exporters to Customs for entry into the CBP system. Shipping documents were examined in paper format by individual officers, often while holding up a shipment. That is, until now.

In April, 2001, U.S. Customs announced a modernization effort to import and export transactions, thus starting the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) Portal system. In 2003, Customs began designing a web portal, and invited 40 importers to test and evaluate the system. By June, 2004, over 145 importer and Customs Broker accounts had been established within the nascent system. During the next ten years, the system was upgraded, tested, and verified by users in the import/export community. The system is now ready for full implementation, with plans to disable and shutter the legacy AES system.

According to U.S Customs, “the ACE Secure Data Portal is a web-based application providing a single, centralized on-line access point to the ACE system and connects CBP, the trade community and government agencies involved in importing goods into the United States. The ACE portal gives users access to view their account information as it exists in CBP and to their transactional data, which they can use to identify and evaluate compliance issues and monitor daily operations.” Importers no longer need to present an ATF Form 6; the approved form is automatically uploaded into the ACE system by ATF. Although the form will still be required, the ATF Form 6A no longer needs to be presented to U.S. Customs. Similarly, exporters no longer need to present a paper copy of the DSP-5 export license to U.S. Customs, as DDTC will automatically upload a copy into the ACE system. In terms of efficiencies, the new ACE system will allow for faster and more streamlined transactions for imports and exporters.

In addition to ATF and DDTC, the ACE system plans to implement partnerships with the Centers for Disease Control, Defense Contract Management Agency, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration/Department of Transportation, and the Food and Drug Administration.

The system is not perfect; the ACE portal is still experiencing growing pains. At some point, the legacy AES system will be phased out. The deadline for shuttering AES has been pushed back several times, but migration has already begun.

As of February 28, 2016, CBP has announced that it will offer limited Client Representative and Technology Service Desk support, will perform AES maintenance during peak business hours, and will provide processing priority to ACE entries where corresponding AES entries are still available. Full migration is expected sometime during the summer of 2016.

Importers and exporters needing an ACE account will find the application for the new system relatively easy. In addition, there are plans to place historical AES data within the ACE system, to allow for seamless transition between the two systems. More information on the ACE data portal may be found at the U.S. Customs website, or by searching for additional information online.