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Re: Foreign Trade Regulations (FTR): Request for Public Comments on the Overall Impact of the Removal of Electronic Export Information (EEI) Filing Requirements for Shipments Between the United States and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

The Florida Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association (“FCBF”) submits this response to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANPRM”) published in the Federal Register on September 16, 2020. FCBF represents more than 400 customs brokers, freight forwarders, and other trade professionals throughout the state of Florida. We thank the Census Bureau for the opportunity to offer these comments. While the overall consensus from our membership is mixed regarding the removal of such requirements, it is important to understand the purpose of electronic export information (EEI) and its importance in maintaining security standards for international shipments originating in the United States. 

As a representative body of the import and export community, we recommend that all EEI requirements remain in place until an adequate replacement mechanism can be implemented. The data collected through EEI is important to decision makers in commercial industry, logistics providers, and the federal government. Businesses both on the islands and in the contiguous U.S. use this data to inform choices and services around new and existing markets. This allows for more competition and better consumer options. 

Additionally, as a hub for transshipments between the Americas and Europe, Puerto Rico is a popular place for illicit international trade activity. Without the collection of data on shipments from the continental U.S. to Puerto Rico, we lose visibility on potential criminal activity on shipments with temporary destinations throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, and final destinations possibly in embargoed and sanctioned countries such as Cuba, Iran, and others. 

To our knowledge, EEI is the only current source for collecting data on shipments to and from Puerto Rico and from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Additionally, EEI data represents the minimum useful trade information and it is collected through an existing government system that is familiar to our industry. The creation of a new reporting requirement and system would only increase the costs and burdens on shippers, carriers, and end customers.

The following answers to the questions posed in the ANPRM represent the overall sentiment of our membership, the leading members of the import and export community in Florida.

What Census Bureau statistical data on shipments between the 50 states and Puerto Rico (e.g., the FT-895 U.S. Trade with Puerto Rico and U.S. Possessions publications and digital datasets) are useful and how are they useful?

EEI statistical data is utilized by the Puerto Rican government to produce statistical reports and to assist in sound policy. This data is used to assist in the determination of the Puerto Rican gross domestic product (GDP). Puerto Rican GDP calculations could be significantly compromised without the trade data that is exclusively provided from the filings. The data provided by EEI filings can also be used by the Puerto Rican government for the verification and application of the Hacienda Tax, which generates much-needed tax revenue for Puerto Rico.

EEI statistical data is also utilized by the federal government. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) uses this data to calculate the total shipped volumes of petroleum and other fuels. This information can aid the DOE and the Puerto Rican government to plan and develop future plans to ensure that Puerto Rico has a resilient power generation system for the future.

As Puerto Rico begins the next phase in hurricane recovery efforts, billions of dollars of goods will be transported from the mainland and EEI collections are an important tool to track and assess these shipments and their impact on the Puerto Rican market. Additionally, as Congress and the Administration contemplate the need for near-sourcing critical pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and personal protective equipment, data on shipments of these items from Puerto Rico to the mainland will become increasingly important. EEI filings are efficient and a time-tested means to do so.

EEI statistical data is also utilized by businesses located within Puerto Rico and on the mainland. Various third parties use the data to create market reports and other industry information. This data helps companies determine Puerto Rican market specifics including the types, quantities, values, and seasonality of specific items shipped to and from the island. Such analysis helps businesses efficiently and effectively meet the demands of the Puerto Rican market.

EEI data collection alleviates the additional burden on Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for manual review of manifests. Access to the required EEI data increases speed and thereby reduces CBP labor. If CBP is forced to obtain information through a manual process and review, in the same manner, this may require an earlier documentation cut-off or manifest submissions and potentially additional CBP personnel.  This would negatively impact shippers, customers, and carriers by increasing travel time, delays, and costs. 

EEI data is utilized by Puerto Rico and mainland law enforcement agencies.  The best example of how EEI filings are used is the requirement to document Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN). Vehicles that are shipped must have their VIN documents.  The EEI filings capture the VIN and the local law enforcement agencies use the data to aid in stolen vehicle surveillance and investigation. Removing this system would hinder law enforcement.

What information in the Census Bureau’s statistical data on shipments between the 50 states and Puerto Rico is most relevant? What characteristics of data on trade for Puerto Rico are most relevant (e.g., consistency and comparability, timeliness, monthly publication)?

The EEI collected includes the most basic commodity shipment data. Without each of the collected data types, the complete data set would be less useful. Currently, EEI collections require the commodity’s 1) Schedule B classification; 2) description; 3) unit of quantity; 4) net quantity; 5) value; 6) shipping weight by air; 7) value by air; 8) shipping weight by vessel; and 9) value by vessel.

The EEI data is consistent, timely, and accurate. 

The Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico requested an assessment of whether alternative datasets could be used, with or without modification, to achieve the same statistical objective of the current reporting requirement for Puerto Rico, while imposing a lesser burden on businesses. Are there additional or alternative datasets that you believe could be used for this assessment?

There do not appear to be any alternative datasets that would achieve the same statistical objective of the current reporting requirement. As indicated above, the EEI data collected includes just nine categories and represents a minimum of useful commodity shipment data.

The EEI filing system is a mature and understood system. It is a system that those within the industry understand and know how to operate within. Creating an entirely new system to capture the same data in today’s current environment is an unnecessary burden. Creating a new system would come at a significant cost to the Census Bureau during a time of increased strain on government funding. There would also be significant costs to shippers, customers, and carriers in time and money to adapt business processes and train employees on a new system. Many of the current users of the EEI system for Puerto Rican data also use EEI for international shipments. Adding a new Puerto Rico-specific system would add a burden to their current operations and workflow.

If the EEI reporting requirement were eliminated and replaced by an alternative data collection intended to reduce burden, which information should be considered essential for inclusion in that alternative collection?

As mentioned above, the EEI collected includes the most basic commodity shipment data. Without each of the collected data types, the complete data set would be less useful. Additionally, there is no evidence to suggest that an alternative data collection would reduce the minimal burden of the current EEI collection. 

Shipments from the 50 states to the U.S. Virgin Islands have a similar filing requirement that enables the Census Bureau to produce trade statistics for shipments from the 50 states to the U.S. Virgin Islands (also included in the FT-895). Do you have any feedback on these statistical products, the information provided in them, and possible alternative datasets that would achieve the same statistical objective as the current reporting requirement, if the reporting requirement for the U.S. Virgin Islands also was eliminated?

There do not appear to be any alternative datasets that would achieve the same statistical objective of the current reporting requirement. As indicated above, the EEI data collected includes just nine categories and represents a minimum of useful commodity shipment data.

The EEI filing system is a mature and understood system. It is a system that those within the industry understand and know to operate within. Creating an entirely new system to capture the same data in today’s current environment is an unnecessary burden. Creating a new system would come at significant cost to the Census Bureau during a time of increased strain on government funding. There would also be significant costs to shippers, customers, and carriers in time and money to adapt business processes and train employees on a new system. 

In summary, the members of FCBF feel strongly that the requirement for electronic export information not be revoked until a safe and equally efficient way of monitoring shipments to the territories is deployed in its place.

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