U.S. Customs Expands Cargo Pre-Clearance

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Published Sep 30, 2016 9:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has expanded its fast clearance plan for ocean freight, the Advanced Qualified Unloading Approval (AQUA Lane) program, which started with a pilot test in four ports late last year.

With AQUA, qualified carriers can file for expedited customs approval a day in advance of arrival, and CBP will pre-clear the ship beforehand. This means that a vessel can start unloading as soon as it ties up, and doesn't have to wait for a customs officer to come aboard and give clearance – shaving off turn times in port and reducing cost in dockage fees. For CBP, it offers a chance to focus its enforcement resources.  

AQUA will now be available in 10 U.S ports: Miami, Savannah, Seattle, Newark, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Port Everglades, Baltimore, Oakland and New Orleans. These include the top five busiest ports in the United States, and all of the major container ports on the West Coast. 

In mid-December, Charleston, Houston, Jacksonville, Honolulu, Norfolk, Philadelphia, Wilmington (DE), Wilmington (NC), Boston, Philadelphia and San Juan will be added to the list.

CBP rolled out AQUA in December with pilot trials at Port Everglades, Baltimore, New Orleans and Oakland.

Only ocean carriers and terminals who are listed as "low-risk" under the CBP's Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism progam (C-TPAT) can participate. AQUA is an expansion on existing C-TPAT program benefits, which also include a reduction in inspection frequency, priority in getting inspections and the possibility of gaining comparable “low-risk” recognition from foreign governments. 

Certain types of cargo are not eligible for AQUA, including agricultural products requiring fumigation upon arrival or containers arriving from countries with risk of Asian Gypsy Moth infestation.