By: Jennifer Horvath, Associate Attorney

As of February 27, 2015, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP or Customs) officials were touting that the phased implementation of ACE (Automated Commercial Environment) was right on schedule.  ACE is the online portal which will eventually become the single window for importers, exporters, and brokers to report trade filings, and by which the government will determine acceptance of these filings.  By November 2016, ACE is scheduled to be a single window for all these transactions.  There are phases of implementation which are mandatory for the public.

The next mandatory phase to be implemented requires filing of all electronic import and export manifests in ACE as of May 1, 2015.  November 1, 2015 is the subsequent phase of implementation, which is perhaps the most ambitious requirement yet:  as of this date, ACE will be required for all electronic release of cargo and entry summary filings.  If an importer or broker is not set up in ACE, then the cargo release and entry summary must be filed on paper.  November 2016 is the date which all remaining portions of the CBP cargo release process must be filed using ACE.

The ACE portal is designed to increase the speed of filing and create greater transparency to users in the process, including added ability to identify points of cargo hold-up. In addition to ease of filing, and accessibility to filing data, users will be able to access an in-process shipment and determine if there are any delays, and the reason for such. For example, if an import is being delayed because a Fish and Wildlife Service form has not yet been submitted, the importer will immediately to able view this error and more efficiently correct any deficiencies, rather than waiting to be contacted by Customs while the shipment is being delayed even further.

Until recently, CBP officials exhibited confidence that the trade was in step with the implementation phases, and the full deployment of ACE would proceed according to the published schedule.  With the current uncertainty about continued funding for Department of Homeland Security, however, comes a potential setback to ACE implementation.  Although ACE developments would continue, the IT personnel required behind the scenes to continue preparing the technical aspects may be prevented from proceeding if funding is reduced or cut.  A furlough would not impact the May 1 date for mandatory manifest filings.  However, the impact to the required use of ACE for cargo release and entry summary filings on November 1 is unclear, and this implementation date may be delayed.  We advise continued monitoring of the ACE deployment to determine whether any of the implementation deadlines will be extended.