The difference between United States exports and imports, our balance of trade, is based in part on down-and-dirty data collected from exporters about to ship their goods. The process for gathering this data has recently gotten cleaner with new regulations, which went into effect last October. The new regulations mandate a switch from the paper Shipper’s Export Declaration to electronic filing.

Exporters may collect data either through vendor software, software they develop, or free Census Bureau software — the Automated Export System, at aesdirect.gov. This automated system is expected to reduce filing costs, improve data accuracy, and be more user friendly. To file export data through AESDirect, a company representative must pass a certification quiz, also available on the site.

The new regulations also set new filing time frames, which vary according to mode of transportation. Joe Cortez, the branch chief for the regulations, outreach, and education branch of the United States Census Bureau’s foreign trade division, was instrumental in developing the compliance program for the AES. The Census Bureau is working to educate small and large companies about how to report exports and the punishments for not reporting, or for reporting incorrect information. Both civil and criminal penalties carry increased fines, ranging from $1,100 to $10,000, and up to five years in jail.

One key element of the compliance program are seminars that teach exporters not only how to use the AESDirect system, but also best practices that ensure compliance with the regulations. One of these seminars takes place on Wednesday, February 18, at 9 a.m. at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison.The following day a training workshop on filing through the AESPcLink begins at 9 there as well. The seminar and workshop also prepare shippers to take the certification quiz.

Speakers from the United States Census Bureau include Christina Farr, regulations supervisor in the foreign trade division; Rebecca DeNale, economic statistician in the foreign trade division; and Nyitre Rodgers, project lead in the AES Branch. Cost: seminar, $190; workshop, $80. Advance registration is recommended. For registration and further information, call 201-995-0770 or E-mail mw@prestigeshipping.com.

The AESDirect software is relatively easy to use, says Cortez. “It is very intuitive, and a tutorial guides you through.” The software has built-in edits that notify users if they enter something incorrect or leave a field blank, and this decreases the likelihood of shipments being stopped or exporters questioned at customs. The software also enables users to save profiles of companies so that data can be entered only once, then used over and over again. The software also enables searching.

To figure out how best to educate exporters to follow the new regulations, Census Bureau staff visited companies that are good reporters and in compliance. Here are some of the best practices they gathered (which are also available in a manual that can be downloaded at www.census.gov/foreign-trade):

Training. Develop training guides for your staff and cross-train staff members. More than one person needs to know and use the system. Cortez remembers one company in which a 32-year-old woman, who had been working for the small company since she was 14, was the sole person who knew how to do the reporting. She got married, had children, and left her job. As a result, says Cortez, “you wind up losing her and all your knowledge goes out the window.”

Maintain a list of contacts and resources. Keep lists of where resources are available on the Internet and within the Census Bureau and other governmental and enforcement agencies as well as who to contact with questions.

Cortez received a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1976 from Texas A&I. He is now doing graduate work at George Mason University in international trade and commerce. Cortez has worked at the Census Bureau for close to 30 years, including involvement with the decennial census and demographic surveys.

The export data now being collected electronically is used in government and business planning as well as to enforce regulations and uncover criminal activity. In addition to its role in determining the balance of payments, export data helps guide economic policy. “Export data is used by Congress to formulate trade policies and to see what direction the whole economy is going,” says Cortez. The same data, broken down by sate is used by chambers of commerce and state governments.

Data collection is also important in enforcing regulations — for example, preventing the exporting of items like ammunition to countries not friendly to the United States.

Export statistics may also uncover potential criminal activity. For example, a business shipping electrical components to a country without the infrastructure to support their use may indicate criminal intent or an endeavor that could be harmful to the United States.

This data can also provide valuable information for individual businesses. “They can look at what goods and commodities are in demand now, what they could be exporting, and to what countries and regions of the world,” says Cortez. There’s a flip side: “If you are producing something nobody wants, that is not being exported, you may want to change your business.”

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