New U.S. Customs Electronic-Filing System Causes Delays at Borders

A new electronic customs system is off to a rocky start, with some shippers reporting their goods held up at the U.S. border for hours.

The technology, which the U.S. Customs and Borders Protection began phasing in on Thursday, is supposed to automate the filing of customs forms and transmit data gathered from shippers to nearly 50 government agencies.

But problems arose almost immediately, with some users receiving “system failure messages” and others waiting hours at border points of entry, said Celeste Catano, a logistics software specialist with Kewill Inc. who has been advising Customs on the new system. The delays affected a small number of shipments, mainly along the Mexican and Canadian borders, a group representing freight forwarders said.

“The [filing] system did not go down completely, but they did have many issues,” Ms. Catano said.

By early Monday afternoon, Customs issued another update reporting that the problem had been fixed, all pending filings were being processed and users would be notified once the backlog was cleared.

A spokeswoman for Customs didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Geoffrey Powell, president of the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America Inc., said shipments experiencing delays were primarily goods moving across the nation’s borders with Mexico and Canada.

“Somebody orders something, it gets on a truck within an hour and the data is sent down” to Customs, Mr. Powell said. “If they get a 20-minute or 30-minute delay in getting a response back, that truck can’t cross the border.”

He added that the number of users affected was relatively small, with delays affecting less than 1% of shipments coming into the U.S.

Known as the Automated Commercial Environment, the new system has been in the works for years. ACE is meant to simplify the movement of goods across the border by collecting data required by various federal agencies in a “single window.” Previously, shippers had to meet a variety of requirements and deadlines. The system is being phased in over the course of the year.

Customs has repeatedly postponed ACE’s rollout to give government agencies and the private sector more time to prepare. Many in the trade community have complained about how long it has taken Customs to develop the new system and the resulting costs associated with years of developing software on the private side to work seamlessly with the new system. All shippers are supposed to switch over to the system by the end of the year.

Mr. Powell said Customs made the right choice in taking a gradual approach, given the delays.

“If we were mandated to be on this system for everything, we’d be in a whole heap of trouble right now,” he said.

Independent Truckers Tell Court E-Logs Violate Constitutional Rights

A group representing tens of thousands of independent truckers said Thursday in a court filing that a new federal requirement for drivers to electronically log their hours on the road violates drivers’ constitutional rights.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association made the argument in a brief supporting its lawsuit against the rules, which the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, announced late last year. All truck drivers will be required to use the electronic logging devices, known as e-logs, by the end of next year. The lawsuit was filed with the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

The FMCSA has said e-logs would help enforce limits on the hours that drivers can spend on the road, and that analyses of carriers already using the devices showed they could reduce crashes. Larger trucking carriers, many which already use e-logs, have expressed support for the safety rule.

OOIDA is arguing that this analysis fails to compare safety records of companies using e-logs to those that do not. The group said it disagrees that e-logs can help prevent highway accidents, and called e-logs a form of tracking that, without a warrant, constitutes illegal search and seizure and a violation of drivers’ fourth amendment rights.

Signs of spring are showing up at U.S. ports

Imports at seaports on the U.S. eastern seaboard surged in February, a sign that retailers and other merchants are stepping up their restocking of warehouses and store shelves heading into the spring shopping season.

The Georgia Ports Authority reported Monday that loaded imports in February rose to 140,624 twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, a common measurement of shipping container volume, an increase of 8.5% from January and 22.7% over the same month a year ago. Georgia’s numbers are driven mostly by the results at the Port of Savannah, the second-busiest container port on the U.S. East Coast, after New York-New Jersey.



Transport Stocks Signal Markets on Track

Trucks and trains are on a roll as far as investors are concerned. After concerns about slowing global growth cut into transportation stocks at the start of the year, shares of companies tied to the shipping, rail and trucking networks that move goods and raw materials are surging, the WSJ’s Aaron Kuriloff reports. The Dow Jones Transportation Average entered bull-market territory last week, rising 22% from its Jan. 20 low after nine consecutive weeks of gains. That shows confidence in the U.S. economy since many of the freight carriers in the index are considered bellwethers of future growth. Investors are responding to good freight and parcel numbers from carriers, and to aggressive moves truckload carriers and railroads have made to bring capacity down along with reduced demand in some areas. Some analysts say the optimism may not last however, with one noting the transport stocks have come “too far, too fast.”