By Keith Norbury

Canada Border Services Agency has postponed indefinitely the deadline for freight forwarders to comply with CBSA’s new electronic manifest system.

The eManifest system was targeted to be mandatory for freight forwarders by this July. However, this spring CBSA announced that it was extending the voluntary compliance period “until eManifest-enabling regulations come into force.” Once those regulations are in place, CBSA promises to give freight forwarders at least 45 days notice of when eManifest will become mandatory.

The postponement of the mandatory introduction came shortly after the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association wrote to CBSA in late March to move back the mandatory implementation date for electronic house bills of lading (eHBL). In making that request to Richard Wex, CBSA’s Vice-President of Programs, CIFFA Executive Director Ruth Snowden and Paul Hughes, who chairs CIFFA’s customs committee, outlined three “critical elements” CIFFA says that eManifest requires for successful implementation of the freight forwarder component. Those elements are “a robust, well tested, processing system; clearly documented and communicated policies and procedures; and a regulatory framework which is workable.”

In an interview with Canadian Sailings, Ms. Snowden said that “a solid regulatory platform” is necessary to support policies and procedures so that customs officers and freight forwarders know what the new system expects of them.

“Without those policies in place, we don’t know if we’re obeying the law. We don’t know if we’re doing the right thing,” Ms. Snowden said. That uncertainty is resulting in holds being placed on cargo unnecessarily, she said. As CIFFA’s March 31 letter noted, “Business cannot operate efficiently in such a void.” Despite its concerns, however, CIFFA and its 250 member companies “are not fighting change,” the letter also pointed out. And as Ms. Snowden said in the interview, “We’re going paperless. It’s a wonderful thing.”

CBSA did not make Wex available for an interview. However, senior media spokesperson Esme Bailey responded to written questions about the issues raised by CIFFA. Among those is the assertion that the eManifest system hasn’t been adequately tested. As of March 24, only 480 electronic house bills had been submitted from just 81 accounts. Yet CIFFA members are doing thousands of house bills every day, Ms. Snowden said. “Even more shocking, only five e-commerce service providers are in testing and only four are in production,” said CIFFA’s March 31 letter to Mr. Wex. “CBSA lists 913 freight forwarders in its records and the daily volume of house bills in the air and marine mode is in the thousands. The system simply has not been adequately tested and the third party service providers are not ready to support the program.”

CBSA responded that it is “confident that the system is sufficiently robust as it was designed to manage the anticipated volumes.” The agency is also continuing “to monitor and address issues as they arise and is working with freight forwarders through compliance monitoring and other support activities.”

Ms. Snowden noted that CBSA has received 85 written commentaries on the proposed regulatory amendments. She sounded clearly exasperated, sighing about what she called “a state of delay” and describing the process as “a mess.”

CBSA acknowledged that it “is currently reviewing comments received from industry members on the proposed eManifest regulations published in the Canada Gazette, Part I. After any necessary adjustments have been made, the regulatory process may conclude with final publication of the regulations in the Canada Gazette, Part II. Once this process is complete, CBSA will be in a position to address questions about specific regulations.”

As far as the policies are concerned, CBSA said it is working to finalize their implementation “as a result of pre-arrival freight forwarder requirements.” CBSA said it also “works closely” with all freight forwarders as well as CIFFA “and is committed to addressing policy issues in a timely manner.” And CBSA is employing “communications, outreach, compliance monitoring and other support activities” to help clients become compliant with eManifest. “This includes training and support for border services officers on new processes and systems,” CBSA said.

Among CIFFA’s other proposed refinements of eManifest, as expressed in a March 14 letter to Tracy Annett, the Director of CBSA’s cabinet, parliamentary and regulatory affairs division, is that “only a Canadian freight forwarding company (with a Canadian business number) should be eligible to apply for and hold a carrier code which permits it to transmit secondary data to the government of Canada.” CBSA did not offer a response to that proposal.

Those are just a few of the beefs that CIFFA has with how eManifest is taking shape. Ms. Snowden said CBSA also wants freight forwarders to supply customs classification numbers for all goods in each shipment, something she said is the importer’s responsibility. “The importers and the customs brokers and the freight forwarders all agree that that is not a freight forwarder’s responsibility,” Ms. Snowden said. “We don’t generally have those data, and we wouldn’t generally send them to Customs.”

Despite CIFFA’s litany of concerns with eManifest, however, Ms. Snowden does not see them as insurmountable. “Whatever they put through in the legislation, they’re going to have to build policy and procedures around it that are workable,” she said. “Or they’re just going to bring business to a halt, which is not what anybody wants. So it (eManifest) is certainly recoverable but it needs a lot of work.”

In the letter to Annett, CIFFA indicated that its members have already devoted a lot of time to eManifest, more than 3,000 staff and volunteer person hours “from a stakeholder input perspective.” That doesn’t include the combined 2,500 hours that 330 supervisors and managers spent at one-day eManifest strategic planning workshops. “The association and the industry are committed to eManifest,” CIFFA said in that letter.

CBSA meanwhile “strongly encourages clients to adopt eManifest requirements before they become mandatory.” In doing so, according to CBSA, clients would benefit from the following:

• a modernized and more efficient commercial border process;

• more time to prepare for eManifest requirements by conducting electronic data interchange (EDI)systems testing, registering for access to the eManifest Portal, adjusting to eManifest processes and correcting problems;

• CBSA’s online resources and client support, including eManifest requirements and Portal documentation; Webinars, workshops and presentations; an eManifest Help Desk and technical support units; compliance monitoring and support; and

• a reduced likelihood of non-compliance when requirements become mandatory.”