October 25, 1998
by George Selby
Each year, billions of dollars worth of American manufacturers'
exports pass through more than 430 Customs ports, port authorities
and weigh stations on their way to foreign markets around the world.
In so doing, it is the job of the U.S. Customs Service, to capture
relevant information about these shipments and cargo transports,
including destination, quantities being shipped, declared dollar
value, method of shipment and more.
It is the responsibility of the U.S. Census Bureau's Foreign Trade
Division to collect, compile and publish statistics on U.S. merchandise
exports (as well as imports and the balance of trade), and make
them available to government officials -- from the White House to
the Federal Reserve Board on down -- and the media, as well as to
promote the availability of this information to businesses and researchers
in need of such economic data.
Currently, American exporters must complete a Shipper's Export
Declaration (SED for short) for almost every commodity valued over
$2500 being exported (there are more than 8,000). Believe it or
not, in this computer-driven age, most SED's are still completed
by hand! In fact, in most cases, it's not the exporter, but their
authorized forwarding agents who complete the SED. Once completed,
an SED is hand-carried by messenger to the point of cargo departure
and turned over to a carrier, who in turn confirms the information
and turns it over with a complete manifest to the U.S. Customs Service.
Customs separates the SEDs from the manifest and mails a copy to
the Census Bureau. Literally, a lot of paper-pushing!
If the paperwork is incorrectly prepared, or required information
is omitted or inaccurate, a costly delay in the release of cargo
for export may take place. As you can imagine, errors and omissions
are rampant. 50% of all paper SED's filed with Customs contain errors
The Census Bureau also estimates that 3 to 7 percent of all export
shipments go unreported. That comes to as much as $48 billion worth
of cargo a year. This affects the quality of the data produced by
the Census Bureau and utilized by the White House and Federal Reserve
Board in protecting and projecting the Nation's economic health.
All this paper-pushing is expensive. A recent study by the National
Council on International Trade Development revealed that processing
paper SEDs costs businesses between $15 and $75 or more apiece.
With 500,000 paper SEDs being filed every month (and processed by
the U.S. Census Bureau), that adds up to a lot of money ó money
that could be reallocated towards revitalizing American industry.
"How?" you ask.
The Automated Export System (AES)
The answer is a new paperless, export information reporting
program from the U.S. Customs Service and the Foreign Trade Division
of the Census Bureau, called AES, or the Automated Export System.
The AES is the outgrowth of the program, AERP, or the Automated
Export Reporting Program.
AES is a voluntary program designed to facilitate the delivery
of information on the exporting of goods and services from the U.S.
to foreign countries. There is no charge to join the program. No
significant investment is required to take part. Exporters simply
need access to a computer and a modem, or to a freight forwarder
or service provider who is already online.
AES provides automatic feedback to online filers, so that if any
information is inaccurate or missing, the system delivers appropriate
prompts immediately. No delays, no waiting! And, with one click
of a computer key, the SED is G-O-N-E. In the hands of the U.S.
Customs Service. No paper, no messengers, no cargo tie-ups and very
Into the Next Millennium
Customs and Census will continue to work with more than 40 different
Federal government agencies required by law to gather export information
so that SED's reported through AES will offer one-stop data collection
and dissemination. This will not only dramatically reduce the cost
of filing these reports with the respective agencies, but eliminate
repetitive efforts collecting the same information over and over.
Believe it or not, of all the trading partners doing business
with the U.S., the United States is the only country that does not
require its SED's to be filed online. Both Mexico and Canada (the
top two U.S. trading partners) have automated systems as an example.
Currently, participation in AES is voluntary, and paper SEDs will
still be accepted for the foreseeable future. However, thanks to
outreach and education efforts by the Foreign Trade Division of
the Bureau of Census and the U.S. Customs Service, more and more
exporters and their authorized forwarding agents are expected to
sign up once they learn the benefits of electronic filing.
To participate in AES each business must submit a Letter of Intent
to the Census Bureau, containing a variety of information ranging
from the obvious, such as company name and address, to "U.S. Ports
of Export Currently Utilized, Average Monthly Volume and Value of
Export Shipments, Modes of Transportation Used," and more. Once
this is done Customs and Census assign AES representatives to the
company to complete the process.
"We strive to develop and deliver data products to meet America's
business needs, and as the millennium approaches, make every effort
to provide American businesses with the most timely and accurate
trade data available," said C. Harvey Monk, Jr., Chief of the Foreign
Trade Division at the Census Bureau. "AES is an important part of
For More Information
Those with questions about AES or enrollment in AES may call the
Census Bureau's Foreign Trade Division Toll-Free number, 800-549-0595.
About the Author:
George Selby, a member of the Federal Communicators Network, is
a Supervisory Marketing Specialist in the Marketing Services Office
of the U.S. Census Bureau in Suitland, Maryland. You may reach him
at 301-457-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.