If you are a small to medium-sized U.S. importer or exporter, chances are you are not using the Customs & Border Protection (CBP) agency’s ACE portal to manage your trade transactions and compliance.
That’s a mistake, and this article will explain why.
First, some background.
CBP created its ACE Portal (Automated Commercial Environment) in 2003 as a web-based tool to connect global traders with CBP, trade partners, and Partner Government Agencies (PGSs) like Fish & Wildlife and the FDA. ACE was modernized during 2022-2023 to be easier to use. But let’s be honest here. It can be a complicated system, especially at the start. A lot of importers and exporters just prefer to stick with what they know.
That’s not an option for importers in Canada, where use of a similar system, called CARM, is mandatory. But in the U.S., companies can bypass ACE and stick with less efficient, but familiar, processes.
While this choice to bypass ACE may seem easier, moving to CBP’s system is better for your business. Like swallowing some poor-tasting medicine for a sore throat, you would be wise to endure some short-term pain for some serious long-term gains.
Why set up a CBP ACE Portal Account?
Having an ACE account puts you, the importer or exporter, in the driver’s seat. It returns control of international transactions to your capable hands.
Think about it. Do you want the government to know more about your business than you do? If you’re not using ACE, right now they do. Here are 10 advantages to having an CBP ACE portal account.
1. Ensure you have not become a victim of corporate identity theft by reviewing transactions under your company’s Importer of Record (IOR) number for any illegitimate entries. Think that’s unlikely? You’d be surprised. Bad actors can get hold of your federal ID number and start importing in your name. Here’s an actual example:
An importer received a seizure notice from CBP officials in the Port of Los Angeles on a shipment of suspected counterfeit t-shirts. That was a surprise to the importer, which dealt solely in machine parts, not apparel. The entry documents included the company name, importer number and surety code, but the supplier, customs broker and carrier were unfamiliar. The importer was the victim of identity theft and spent substantial time and money to clear its name.
2. Be sure you don’t miss communication from CBP, especially CF-28s and CF-29s. This is a big one. ACE is CBP’s preferred communication platform for formal notices of suspected non-compliance. The CF-28 notices are formal requests for information in response to incomplete or suspected inaccurate information on Customs entries. You have 30 days to respond. If you don’t, Customs will make a final determination using the information available – and they’ll usually presume the least favorable interpretation.
CF-29 notices follow after CF-28s and inform you, via the CBP ACE portal, that you have paid the incorrect duty amount. CF-29s are not warnings; they notify you that action has been taken to, for example, reclassify your goods at another duty rate – something you’ll obviously want to know.
3. Proactively monitor and evaluate import and export activity through each of your customs brokers and forwarders. You want to make sure only authorized service providers are filing your transactions. Over time, it’s possible to lose track of brokers who have a signed Power of Attorney with you and are still filing for you. ACE gives you an easy way to make sure that doesn’t happen.
4. Meet CBP’s “reasonable care” compliance standard. Standard reports in ACE tell you whether CBP believes you are meeting S. Importer of Record responsibilities. Have Importer Security Filings (ISFs) been submitted on time? Is Customs paperwork correct? Your broker could consistently run afoul of Customs requirements, but if they eventually clear it up on the fourth try, you may never know. Outside of ACE, there is no other way to monitor with certainty data CBP has received about your import and export activity.
5. Leverage free reports to gather data for internal audits or other corporate data collection initiatives. ACE has more than 60 standard reports that help you better understand your supply chain and foreign suppliers and prepare for audits. The data is available immediately. If you have to gather that same data from brokers and forwarders, you’ll need to wait, and the data may not be complete. ACE data is always 100% accurate. It’s the single version of the truth with respect to your exports, Customs entries, payments, and compliance record.
6. Manage duty payments, monitoring your Periodic Monthly Statement as it’s being built in CBP’s ACE portal. You want to check for accuracy and manage your cash flow. With your personal bank account, you check your statement monthly for unexpected charges, right? You need to do the same with your duty payments to be a good steward of your company’s finances.
Need a primer on the Customs Clearance process. Check out this article.
7. Track the liquidation status of your entries so your team is aware of any contingent liabilities. When your broker files Customs entries and you pay the duties, CBP initially regards the payments as estimated duties and fees. They are estimated because the U.S. government has a full year to determine if the payments are correct. Somewhere during that time, entries are “liquidated,” or formally accepted. After that point, the CBP cannot act. Leverage ACE to track liquidation and look for potential changes to your entries and duty obligations.
8. Monitor your bond sufficiency so you have enough time to increase the amount, if needed. Importers must post a bond that is equal to 10% of the duties they estimate they will pay in a 1-year period. But if you have a spike in product volume, your bond may be insufficient and CBP will request a higher bond – and they don’t give you a lot of time to respond. Without an ACE account to monitor this, you could be caught by surprise. Just like your car displays a notice on the dashboard when you need an oil change, ACE’s auto-monitoring features keep you on top of this and other Customs compliance requirements.
9. More easily manage multiple entities (IORs and sub-accounts) that can challenge large companies. Let’s say your company has five subsidiaries, each of which manages its own entries under separate IORs. Keeping track of all these accounts is hard, but ACE makes it easy. You can join ACE at the parent-company level to gain access to all subsidiary activities.
10. Access current information about antidumping and countervailing duty (AD/CVD) cases that might affect the duties paid on your products. The products impacted by AD/CVD are a moving target and ACE can be an extra reference tool to monitor if your products are impacted.
What’s the barrier to setting up a CBP ACE portal account?
Despite these compelling reasons to open an ACE account, many small and medium-sized businesses don’t. Mostly, their hesitance is down to inertia. They have their own way of doing it…it’s comfortable…why fix what’s not broken.
The problem with that thinking is that, when working outside of ACE, you don’t know if it’s broken or not. You simply don’t have the visibility to alerts that signal a problem, or historical reports that help you to recognize trends and stay in full command of your company’s relationships with CBP.
There are a couple of ways to overcome this inertia and hop on the ACE train. One, lean on your partner for Customs brokerage and freight forwarding services. Open an ACE account and give them access. Chances are they are very familiar with the ACE interface and can ease your transition. The second thing to keep in mind is that ACE is not an all-or-nothing tool. You can continue using your current entry audit and communication methods as you gradually shift over to the CBP ACE portal.
Signing up for ACE is easy!
The CBP ACE portal is CBP’s preferred way for importers and exporters to communicate with the agency. It gives you one source of truth for all your exports, Customs entries and payments, and your compliance record. You can use the data to lower your company’s risk and make your compliance team more efficient.
Applying for an ACE account is easy. Follow these steps:
- Click on this link to access CBP’s on-line application form.
- Complete the form. NOTE: the form seems long, but an importer, for example, must only fill in about 12 fields, including key contact information, address details, and the company’s IOR number.
- Virtually sign the form and hit the submit button.
CBP’s ACE team will email you with any questions they have about your application and send you a link with login details as soon as your application is processed.
We recommend that you create a free ACE account today. Start the process by conferring with your Customs broker, forwarder or trusted global trade compliance consultant, like Dimerco. They can become your partner in creating a more organized, more efficient execution process for Customs compliance and reporting. Ultimately, the CBP ACE portal will give you the visibility and insights you need to better manage trade-related costs and reduce your company’s risk.
Want to get started with ACE? Connect with a Dimerco Customs compliance specialist to start a conversation.