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What Customers Are Saying About the Automated Export System

"What do I think of AES? I love it! I no longer have to transmit SEDs via fax or use costly messenger services at $9 per package. It even saves me costs on phone calls and... toner for printing paper SEDs."
--Marguerite Larsen, Owner, Global International Forwarders, Flemington, NJ

"I've been in this business for 30 years and am very pleased with the new Automated Export System for processing SEDs... The system is completely paperless. It eliminates having to send... original SEDs to the carrier via messenger. This is a real time and cost-saver to us... It's great! Everyone should be using AES"
--Carol Orr, VP, Peter Wittwer, NA, Chicago, IL

Exporting to the 21st Century
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.

Paper SEDs

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 or omissions.

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 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 little cost.

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 that effort."

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