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Why a Global Business Identifier Could ‘Modernize’ Trade

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will be collaborating with a dozen partner agencies to pilot a single business identifier solution designed to create a “common language” between government and industry, pinpoint high-risk shipments and facilitate legitimate trade.

The so-called Global Business Identifier Evaluative Proof of Concept program, authorities said Friday, seeks to “modernize” trade processes by evaluating unique business identifiers that could replace, at some future point, the decades-old Manufacturer/Shipper Identification (MID) number currently used to track customs information.

The problem with the MID in its current form is that it only includes the importer’s name, address and country of origin, meaning that it lacks the “data richness and uniqueness” that could provide officials with more accurate supply-chain insights. There can be issues with consistency, as well: Names and locations can change over time, resulting in the same MID for multiple entries.

“The complexity of modern, global supply chains requires innovative solutions to increase transparency,” said AnnMarie R. Highsmith, executive assistant commissioner at the CBP Office of Trade. “Our hope for this pilot program is that it will give us a more complete picture of goods making their way into the U.S. so that we can focus enforcement efforts on high-risk shipments while ensuring the free flow of legal trade that supports our economy.”

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CBP has narrowed down the list of entity identifiers it wishes to explore. There’s the Data Universal Numbering System, or DUNS, a nine-digit numeric and non-indicative identifier that uses more than 200 reference data elements to identify unique business establishments. Another option, the Global Location Number (GLN), offers a string of 13 digits with underpinning reference data elements that are customizable by location, function and operations. A third, the Legal Entity Identifier (LEI) revolves around a 20-digit alphanumeric identifier with underlying reference data elements unique to the target entity.

Importers of record and licensed customs brokers who wish to participate in the program can apply to obtain the DUNS, GLN and LEI numbers, which they can submit alongside their MIDs from Dec. 19 through July 21. CBP will then assess the “optimal combination” of identifiers for capturing data of interest, including the identity of the main legal entity, specific business locations and relevant supply chain roles and functions. Participants will also be able to provide feedback on the GBI program’s design and scope.

The ultimate goal of the project, authorities said, is to achieve greater visibility into U.S. supply chains, strengthening enforcement capabilities such as counterfeit detection and commodity tracking while allowing the trade community to better manage and validate its data.

“With the GBI pilot, we expect improved data quality, industry cost and time savings, streamlined supply chain tracking and increased protection from counterfeiting–wins for both the trade community and the U.S. government,” Highsmith said.