As many importers are aware, CBP’s Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) will soon replace the Automated Commercial System (ACS) with upcoming deadlines including May 1, 2015 for the mandatory use of ACE for filing all electronic import and export cargo manifest data, and November 1, 2015 for the mandatory use of ACE for all electronic cargo release and related entry summary filings. In furtherance of this transition, last month U. S Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced its plan to further modify the National Customs Automation Program (NCAP) test concerning Cargo Release functionality in ACE.

The original test was called the Simplified Entry Test and established new entry capabilities with the intent of simplifying the entry process for cargo transported via air by reducing the number of data elements required to obtain a release. The goal was to allow for earlier release decisions and more certainty for the importer in determining the logistics of cargo delivery. The original test was limited to Type 01 and Type 11 consumption entries filed in the air transportation mode only. Modifications last November included removing the requirement that participants be CTPAT certified, as well as the addition of new data elements. The present notice announces further modifications to include expansion to ocean and rail modes of transportation and an invitation to more participants to join the test. The effective date for the modifications announced is no earlier than January 5, 2014, and the test will run until approximately November 1, 2015.

To be eligible to apply for this test, the applicant must: (1) be a self-filing importer who has the ability to file ACE Entry Summaries certified for cargo release, or a broker who has the ability to file ACE Entry Summaries certified for cargo release; or (2) have evidenced the intent to file entry summaries in ACE. Parties seeking to participate in the test must use a software package that has completed Automated Broker Interface (ABI) certification testing for ACE and offers the simplified entry message set prior to transmitting data under the test.

Parties seeking to participate in this test must use a software package that has completed Automated Broker Interface (ABI) certification testing for ACE and offers the simplified entry message set prior to transmitting data under the test. CBP advised that it will try to accept all new eligible applicants on a first come, first served basis; however, if the volume of applicants is too large they are reserving the right to select eligible participants in order to achieve a “diverse pool” of applicants.

In lieu of filing CBP Form 3461 data, the importer (or broker acting on behalf of the importer), must file 12 basic data elements with CBP, known as the ACE Cargo Release Data set. Regarding ocean and rail shipments, an additional three optional elements may be provided, including the ship-to party and consolidator names and addresses, and the container stuffing location. Another three optional data elements including port of entry, identification of in-bond, and bill quantity can also be included for added functionality. Isn’t this an additional optional 6 data elements?

The ACE Cargo Release Data set may be filed at any time prior to arrival of the cargo into a United States port. Upon receipt of the ACE Cargo Release data, CBP will process the submission and transmit its cargo release decision to the filer, only then will the merchandise be officially considered “entered” upon its arrival in the port. At present ACE Cargo Release data may only be submitted for entries filed at certain ports; however, the link provided in the February 3, 2014 Federal Register announcement was not functioning at the time of this writing.

Those wishing to submit comments or questions, or to indicate their interest in participation in the test, should send an email to Susan Maskell at susan.c.maskell@cbp.dhs.gov and indicate in the subject line ‘‘Comment on ACE Cargo Release.’’ The body of the email should include information regarding the identity of the ports where filings are likely to occur.

As all of the above is intended to streamline the cargo release process and provide more certainty for importers in determining the logistics of cargo delivery, importers may wish to consider participation in the test, which will also allow further acclimation with the features of ACE in anticipation of the upcoming mandatory implementation deadlines.