The U.S. Dairy Exporter Blog: Market Analysis, Research & News
  • Speed and Efficiency Come to Export Documentation

    By Sandra Benson August 12, 2013

    Discussions concerning the paperwork involved with U.S. dairy exports can be about as interesting as watching cheddar age. U.S. dairy suppliers selling to foreign buyers want the required forms filled and processed as quickly, as accurately and with as little hassle as possible and don’t want to think about it. And that is exactly why the latest developments from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) are so exciting.

    In late June, after years of development, months of beta testing and countless phone conferences between AMS Dairy Grading, AMS Information Technology, the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) and development teams from AMS and Acentia (a private systems developer), AMS rolled out its Electronic Document Creation System (eDOCS). eDOCS is a user-friendly means for U.S. dairy suppliers to request health certification online that significantly raises the speed and accuracy of document transmission. Increased efficiency in turn reduces transaction risk, simplifying U.S. dairy trade in a way that builds on itself to encourage even greater volumes. eDOCS not only provides significant immediate benefits to U.S. dairy exporters, it represents a sizeable step forward on the industry’s road to an even more efficient, paperless future.

    The initial eDOCS rollout is for shipments to the European Union (EU), but it will be expanded over time to cover other AMS dairy certificates in other markets. Certificates created in eDOCS flow automatically to USDA’s Electronic Trade Document Exchange (eTDE) system, allowing U.S. suppliers, importers and foreign authorities at participating ports to view them online.

    Prior to eDOCS, U.S. suppliers looking to export to the EU would either send faxed certificate requests to AMS or utilize the agency’s existing online ordering system. Both options were cumbersome.

    AMS had to retype information on faxed requests, which was both time consuming and left open the possibility for transcription errors. Such mistakes would necessitate an amended certificate, which resulted in further delays to document delivery and could lead to demurrage charges. Certificate turnaround was up to 5 days.

    Exporters using the online ordering system received their certificates more quickly, but had to retype all the information with every certificate request.

    eDOCS demands fewer hours of input time for the requesting company because users can create up to 60 customer templates as well as reuse data from old certificate requests. Because exporters are entering their own information, the risk of transcription errors is reduced. Templates and certificates are saved at the company level, allowing greater efficiency among colleagues. AMS turnaround time is down to 2-3 days.

    Exporters can also view copies of their official certificates in eDOCS and send them to importers to review, so any amendments can be requested far ahead of the vessel’s arrival. This online viewing ability frees up AMS’s time since fewer exporters will request fax copies.

    The efficiency gains are tremendous for both the exporter and AMS.

    In addition, eDOCS can be used to request EU health and transit certificates, as well as the bloc’s newer composite health and composite transit certificates. The existing online order system can only be used to request the former two.

    AMS plans to shut down its existing online order system on Sept. 1, 2013. Although it will continue to accept fax requests, the fax method will grow increasingly costly in the months ahead. (To use eTDE and eDOCS, suppliers must first register for a level-2 USDA e-Authentication account. For more information on eTDE/DOCS registration or training, visit

    eTDE and eDOCS were joint efforts. AMS Dairy Grading, AMS Information Technology, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and USDEC all played critical roles over the course of the projects. For more than two years, USDEC staff served as subject matter experts and liaison between system developers and AMS, prioritizing fixes to the system and helping identify problems and solutions in the testing phase.

    eDOCS is without a doubt a major step forward in transitioning to all-electronic documentation, but we still have a ways to go before we are completely paperless. In fact, AMS will continue issuing paper certificates for the time being, as we work as a team to finalize implementation across the EU and introduce it elsewhere in the world, starting in China.

    Once paper certificates are completely eliminated, the system will bring another set of benefits in reduced costs from eliminating the need to courier health certificates overseas. There are also efforts planned to broach the subject of electronic commercial documents with Customs authorities, which has the potential to eliminate the need to courier paper overseas altogether.

    Export documentation may not be glamorous. But it is a perfect example of how industry and government can work together and do the heavy technical lifting needed to resolve issues that limit the U.S. dairy industry’s ability to fully capitalize on rising export demand.

    (This article first appeared in Cheese Market News in August 2013.)

    The U.S. Dairy Export Council is primarily supported by Dairy Management Inc. through the dairy farmer checkoff that builds on collaborative industry partnerships with processors, trading companies and others to build global demand for U.S. dairy products.   



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