Import regulations being finalised this year may force companies importing products into the US by land or air to computerise their shipping manifests, if they have not already done so.
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The regulations would require companies shipping products into and out of the US to file electronically manifests with the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, which is part of the US Department of Homeland Security, in advance of the shipments.
The rules, governing all types of transportation, are similar in some ways to a 2002 rule requiring a notice to be filed 24 hours before the products are loaded onto a ship bound for the US.
The minimum notice for a shipment coming into the US by air would be four hours before arrival, truck shipments would be one hour or less, and rail shipments would be two hours.
An earlier version of the regulation, more similar to the 24-hour rule, prompted complaints from industries that rely on air freight for overnight service to customers, but proposals released at the end of July seem to be less controversial.
The DHS argued that the regulations are needed to give border agents more notice on shipments coming into the country.
"Obviously, this is a national security issue, so we understand why they want to do this," says AnnMarie Treglia, director of international trade regulation for AeA, a technology trade association. "But things that look good on paper don't always work in the real world."
George Weise, a former US Customs Service commissioner and now vice-president with software and consulting firm Vastera, said the regulations will force companies to abandon fax and paper manifests to keep up with the regulation's electronic filing requirements.
The customs agency operates several systems through which it accepts electronic manifests via electronic data interchange, but not all shippers use them. The regulations are due to be finalised by November.
Grant Gross writes for IDG News Service