Customs spearheads move toward automated trade

The Customs Service working with more than 50 other federal agencies and hundreds of private companies this month installed a prototype of a system designed to speed up trade by merging data needed for the import and export of products into a single system.

The system dubbed the North American Trade Automation Prototype also will monitor trucks carrying shipments of goods as they approach the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico and help Customs agents determine ahead of time whether the goods vehicles and drivers are cleared to cross.

John Simpson deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury Department for regulatory tariff and trade enforcement said NATAP could boost trade among the three countries by reducing paperwork for the agencies involved in a trade transaction as well as the amount of time shipments spend at the borders for processing.

"We're trying to create within the next year a system to ensure [that] all data collection is done only once " he said. "That will significantly reduce the cost of data collection for U.S. exports and imports."

Simpson said 70 to 90 percent of the data the government collects for import transactions already has been collected by the country of export. By sharing that data quickly he said trade partners could decrease document preparation costs which studies have shown to comprise up to 7 percent of the cost of goods sold through international trade.

Robert Ehinger director of the International Trade Data System project at Treasury said trucks carrying cargo slated for import or export will be equipped with transponders that send signals to roadside "readers" mounted on towers. The readers will relay information to the NATAP database which will provide Customs agents with information on goods in the truck and whether the driver is cleared to cross the border.

Ehinger said the prototype will be installed at six sites along the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico.

Treasury awarded a contract in April to Science Applications International Corp. to build the NATAP database and the interfaces to the various users. Don Brady director of transborder systems at SAIC said the company installed the central database at Treasury headquarters in Washington D.C. with interfaces to the agencies involved in border transactions.

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