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In recent months, the Ornithological Council has learned that the importing process has become considerably more challenging due to the development and implementation of a new Customs system called "ACE" or Automated Commercial Environment. Notwithstanding the name, it also applies to non-commercial imports. It is indeed automated and access to the online system for declaring imports (also known as "entries") is really designed for the community of commercial importers and customs brokers.
Currently, ACE requires Customs declaration information. As of 23 July 2016, the APHIS import information will also be entered through ACE. Eventually, the USFWS information (i.e., the information required on a 3-177) will also be entered through ACE. In theory, then, this system will eventually simplify the import process (though both the USFWS and APHIS can still require physical inspections of imports if they wish to do so) by providing a single place to enter all required import declarations and related information.
The Ornithological Council has been working with Customs and Border Protection, which has been fantastically helpful, to try to determine what, if anything, can be done to simplify the system for wildlife research
imports. There are two types of entries - informal and formal. It seems to hinge on the value of the import and since yours have no commercial value, it would be the informal entry tier. Although both require the use of this
ACE entry system, so not clear how classifying these as informal will solve the ACE entry problem. However, the information required for informal entry is apparently simpler and easier.
Individuals can NOT register to use ACE and enter the data themselves (contrary to what we originally thought)
In addition, you can file on paper. The Ornithological Council has obtained the forms and instructions and is working through "translating" the abbreviations and codes and explaining where to find the required info. However, it is not clear that you can use the paper forms at the airport. Based on the experience of one researcher last week, it seems that Customs at the airport holds the material and sends you elsewhere to file them and then you can retrieve your samples. Unless you live close to the airport where you entered the U.S., this is unworkable. And even if you do, what a pain and waste of time. Realize that this was a sample size of one. We don't know if this would be the
case at every airport. Again, awaiting info from CBP on this.
Meanwhile, the Ornithological Council has had a long and productive discussion with two customs brokerages. We are awaiting proposals for handling the imports and exports of the wildlife research community. The Ornithological Council will distribute it to the entire wildlife research community. These brokers are willing to develop the expertise to deal with the USFWS and APHIS paperwork and procedures (through a close working relationship with the Ornithological Council and SPNHC). The idea here is that if everyone uses this broker, there will be enough transactions that it will be worthwhile for them to develop the expertise to handle your shipments - including those moving on CITES permits, i.e., dealing with validation - with special care and
attention to the agency-specific requirements.
And of course, they would deal with this ACE entry system problem (which will apply to exports, too, in the future). Any customs broker could do that but the odds that any customs broker would have the requisite
expertise to deal with the USFWS and APHIS complexities are slim because they just don't handle many transactions of this type.
If you are an ornithologist and have an upcoming import, please feel free to contact the Ornithological Council
for information and assistance with the ACE entry system or any other aspect of your import. We routinely create custom import checklists for researchers, from obtaining permits to making arrangements for the airport process.