By Keith Norbury

The implementation date for electronic manifests, or e house bills, for freight forwarders is delayed. Again. “CBSA has advised trade that a date will be announced at the end of June,” said Paul Hughes, who chairs the customs committee for the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association’s Board of Directors. A specific date has not been announced but CIFFA believes it will be sometime in the fall, Mr. Hughes said in an interview.

A spokesperson for Canadian Border Services Agency said by email that a voluntary compliance period for eManifest remains in effect for freight forwarders. “CBSA will communicate the implementation timeline for eManifest requirements once confirmed, and in advance of the mandatory compliance date,” said the email from CBSA’s Esme Bailey. CBSA didn’t say when that date would be or if it has even been set. However, Ms. Esme did add that regulatory amendments published in the Canada Gazette in May 2015 “made eManifest requirements for freight forwarders legally binding.”

The latest delay is in response to a letter drafted by CIFFA and signed by the various industry partners that sit on the border commercial consultative committee (BCCC) of CBSA, said Mr. Hughes, who is the national manager of customs compliance and consulting for Agility Logistics. “Our concern was not so much that the freight forwarders weren’t ready but that our partners, the primary terminals, were not ready,” Mr. Hughes said. In particular, terminals were not ready to meet the necessary program and business process requirements of a deconsolidation notice required for the smooth implementation of electronic house bills, a.k.a. eHBLs, which has become shorthand for the freight forwarder requirements for eManifest.

A deconsolidation notice will allow a terminal to give a consolidated container to a freight forwarder’s carrier and move it to a warehouse for destuffing, Mr. Hughes explained. A notice will also, in the case of a full container, give a terminal the authority to release it for pick up. “That’s it in a nutshell. There’s a lot of nuances in there,” Mr. Hughes said.

Many of those technical nuances are contained in a 147-page advisory CBSA issued earlier this year on eManifest scenarios for freight forwarders. “What it’s doing is providing 14 different scenarios of how this will work which we have identified along with carriers,” Mr. Hughes said. CSBA’s Ms. Bailey noted that the advisory is an example of a client support document that the agency has prepared “in response to trade partner’s requests for detailed scenarios” about eManifest.

The problem is that terminals have not yet had the time to program those nuances into their computer systems in order to accept the electronic systems. That process is expected to take six or seven months. “This affects people like CN, CP, and the big container terminals in Vancouver, Montreal, and Halifax,” Mr. Hughes said. Air carriers’ terminals are equally affected.

Other transportation players are also involved, he said as he read from the annual report that he was to present at CIFFA’s annual conference in Montreal on June 16. They include warehouses, carriers of all modes, domestic truckers, customs brokers, electronic data interchange providers, exporters, and importers.

“Without all players fully aligned and in sync, eManifest will continue to be a challenge rather than a solution,” Mr. Hughes said. “The reason I say all of that is simply because it’s not just the forwarders that are implicated in this change. Yes, e house bill is our component of eManifest but we will not be successful in implementing it without every single partner being on board.”

CBSA’s Ms. Bailey said that the agency “is working to address general technical issues” regarding eManifest notices although they aren’t specific to terminals. “At the same time, CBSA is consulting with trade partners on the implementation timeline for the transition to mandatory compliance for eManifest requirements for freight forwarders,” she added. eHBLs are supposed to eliminate the paper blizzard from freight forwarding. So far that promise remains elusive. Take, for example, what’s required to move a consolidated container from a port to warehouse for destuffing, Mr. Hughes said: “We have to physically take the steamship line’s manifest, along with our new manifest per house bill of lading, walk it down from customs, get them to stamp it, and then give the trucker the cancelled steamship line manifest and a copy of our new manifest before the port or terminal, like CN or CP, will allow the trucker to move the container.”