ACE Backgrounder

  • 2002: In response to 9/11, the US Congress passed a law mandating the use of electronic manifests to pre-declare arrivals at U.S. ports. Implementing such a system is a huge undertaking and the use of PAPS was essentially an interim measure.
  • 2004: Congress criticized CBP (Customs and Border Protection) for failing to implement its law but grudgingly accepted CBP’s request to treat its PAPS program as “interim compliance”, provided that the full ACE program would be in place in short order.
  • 2006: “Short order” is now here. All exporters to the US will now have to file electronic manifests.

To quote CBP’s explanation:

“The Trade Act of 2002 mandated that cargo information must be sent electronically to CBP prior to its arrival into the United States. To satisfy this requirement, CBP used Pre-Arrival Processing System (PAPS), BRASS, QP/WP, CAFES, and FAST.

Soon it will be mandatory for all carriers to file their manifests electronically to comply with the Trade Act. Once this requirement has been mandated, the use of PAPS, CAFES, QP/WP, BRASS, and FAST can continue however, CBP will no longer accept those processes as satisfying the Trade Act (one exception, FAST-NCAP will still satisfy the Trade Act requirements). Thus, carriers, importers, and brokers should continue using these processes to ensure that arriving trucks are cleared from the port of entry as expeditiously as possible. “

The electronic transmission of information with ACE e-Manifest: Truck only replaces the requirement to present a paper manifest. The transmission of the e-Manifest still requires either an Entry or an In-bond movement authorization for the goods to proceed.

There are currently four options for an exporter:

1) Create e-Manifests on CBP’s ACE portal, a website where you type in all the information for each truck, trailer, driver, and shipment details for each trip. Experience shows that you can expect to spend about ½ hour to complete this exercise for each truck. The benefit of this approach is that the facility is free.

2) Contract with one of several software houses who host a website facility similar to the CBP ACE portal but add a few enhancements such as name and address store/recall (although CBP has just added this facility to the ACE portal itself.)

3) Transmit the data directly from your own computer system to CBP using EDI (Electronic Data Interchange.) This requires custom programming to create the EDI electronic messages as well as a secure data transmission connection to communicate with CBP. This is an expensive arrangement for each exporter to implement individually.

4) A variation on 3 is to have a shared connection and an adaptable software package to take advantage of the integration with your existing data but without the extensive communications and development costs. This is what Mitterra ACE represents.

Impact on PAPS

Exporters currently using PAPS will be accustomed to using one unique PAPS number per trip. Under ACE, you will need to assign a unique number to each shipment (i.e. each consignee) on that trip instead. CBP is suggesting that when you adopt ACE live, you continue to use your PAPS numbers but that you apply a separate one to each shipment on the trip. It’s a simple way of ensuring that each shipment gets a unique Shipment Control Number (SCN.) Your broker will use those for creating the Entries.

The e-Manifest will use the SCN (along with a fairly generic description of the goods) to identify the shipments on a Trip. CBP will match up the broker's submission with your eManifest submission to know in detail what’s on the truck. The e-Manifest system also includes a feature where CBP will send some shipment data from your e-Manifest to the individual broker(s) to allow them to compare quantities, etc. and flag differences for resolution before the truck arrives at the border.

Documents at Border Crossings

CBP staff are suggesting that especially during the phase-in at each border crossing, drivers be supplied with the complete set of printed documentation (including the printed manifest they have traditionally used) but that all of this documentation be kept in a sealed envelope. These documents are only to be supplied to the customs agent when they are specifically requested. In addition, they suggest supplying a one-page summary of the submitted e-Manifest giving the unique Trip Number in bold lettering and, preferably, rendered as a barcode as well. This is particularly important if the specific truck crosses more than once on a given day. The agent can simply scan the barcode and be assured that the right trip information is presented on their screen.

The reason this is so important is that during phase-in CBP is creating “shell” e-Manifests if a real e-Manifest is not already in the system. If they mistype the trip number or scan a PAPS sticker and treat it as a Trip Number, no match will be found against your submitted e-Manifest and the individual shipments will be moved from your real e-Manifest to the “shell” e-Manifest. Then, from their perspective, the truck for your submitted e-Manifest never shows up and problems start. The net result: you’ll wind up in secondary inspection for sure and possibly be refused entry. In short, don’t show them any number except the real Trip Number, preferably in barcode format, so they can’t mistype it


Shippers attending the CBP information meeting (and who had already implemented ACE), shared their experience that while drivers initially were hesitant to take loads that used ACE manifests, they were now competing for such loads since the customs clearance was so much faster and easier


Sensis Software has experience with electronic export documentation by virtue of its work with both trucking companies and floral wholesale exporters and has spent considerable time researching ACE compliance and implementation, however, Sensis Software Inc. is not qualified to provide legal advice, is not qualified as a Customs Broker, and does not speak on behalf of CBP – it is simply sharing information assembled from its experience, its research on the topic, and attendance at CBP information meetings in the US.