Originally printed in the July 2018 issue of Produce Business.
Shipments of fresh and processed fruits, vegetables and related products are imported to the United States from around the globe each day and presented to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). In the past, importers had to submit hard copies of information to CBP and multiple agencies individually. This process created delays in the approval of produce imports as well as gaps in information sharing between government agencies.
CBP has worked with other government agencies to create a new combined electronic filing and monitoring process. This process has been implemented, and the results are very encouraging. The new filing and monitoring process has greatly enhanced the import process.
A “single-window concept” was developed through which the data required by 47 government agencies for international trade transactions could be submitted by customs brokers and self-filers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) was one of the agencies included in this single-window initiative. AMS provides oversight and ensures compliance for the import requirements of various programs. AMS oversees the importation of 16 different fruit, vegetable and specialty crop commodities, including avocados, dates, hazelnuts/filberts, grapefruit, table grapes, kiwifruit, olives, onions, oranges, Irish potatoes, pistachios, raisins, tomatoes, walnuts, peanuts and shelled eggs. AMS coordinates inspections of these commodities according to U.S. grade standards and other specifications to verify each entry meets the specific import requirements for Section 8e of the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act.
So how does the electronic filing process for these commodities work?
The AMS Compliance and Enforcement Branch has reduced the time necessary to investigate and close cases of non-compliant imports from several months to an average of 3 weeks of the entry being filed. Industry members can expect that level of service to continue as more importers begin using the system.
Before products reach the U.S. border or enter a port of entry, importers enter information regarding their imported commodity into CBP’s system (called the Automated Commercial Environment or ACE). ACE allows importers to electronically submit required documentation — once — instead of the numerous times on paper to multiple agencies as they would have in the past.
AMS developed its own internal system to receive and process information received from ACE, as transmitted by the importer. These transmissions convey importers’ contact information, type of product, port of entry, Customs Entry Number and other required details. The AMS system is referred to as the Compliance Enforcement Management System (CEMS). CEMS processes the information, automatically creates a file for the entry, and electronically transmits a notification with all pertinent details to the federal or federal-state inspection office located where the commodities will be presented for inspection.
Once the product has been inspected and certified as meeting import requirements, the inspection office staff transmits the inspection certificate information regarding whether it passed or failed back to CEMS. The same process is in place for laboratories to transmit any results for commodities that have testing requirements. If all import requirements have been met, CEMS transmits a “may proceed” message back to ACE and the broker or self-filer. If requirements have not been satisfied, CEMS automatically assigns the case to AMS personnel for follow-up.
“American farmers and producers of these commodities rely on the Agricultural Marketing Service to assure imported products meet the same quality standards as domestic products,” says Vincent Fusaro, chief of AMS’s Compliance and Enforcement Branch. “Even if they’ve never heard of AMS, American consumers have these same expectations, and all CEMS entries are processed and monitored.”
Since launching CEMS in 2016, the system has efficiently processed approximately 28,500 individual entries, including almost 20,000 auto-reconciled entries nationwide. The AMS Compliance and Enforcement Branch has reduced the time necessary to investigate and close cases of non-compliant imports from several months to an average of three weeks of the entry being filed. Industry members can expect that level of service to continue as more importers begin using the system. The electronic transmission of the data enables products to be released into U.S. marketing channels sooner. This new network of systems ensures all fruit, vegetable and related crop imports are accounted for and compliance is monitored.
Companies importing goods into the United States need to access ACE-using software developed by approved vendors listed at www.cbp.gov/document/guidance/abi-software-vendors-list
Fiona Pexton is a marketing specialist in the Marketing Order & Agreement Division, Specialty Crops Program, Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA.