Census Bureau seeks comments on proposed removal of filing requirement for US-PR & USVI shipments

By The Star Staff

The United States Census Bureau is seeking public comments as the federal government considers removing the Electronic Export Information (EEI) filing requirement for shipments between the United States and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

While the move seeks to remove the burden on interstate commerce and spur economic development, it could seriously hinder the compilation of federal statistics, the Census Bureau said.

“The Census Bureau is responsible for collecting, compiling, and publishing export trade statistics for the United States under the provisions of Title 13, United States Code (U.S.C.), Chapter 9, Section 301. For these statistics, the Census Bureau uses data from the Electronic Export Information (EEI) filings in the Automated Export System,” the bureau said. “Trade between the United States and its territories is considered domestic and therefore statistics on such trade are not tabulated as a part of the Census Bureau foreign trade statistics.”

Collecting and compiling trade statistics between the United States, Puerto Rico, and other territories is part of the Census Bureau’s monthly processing of EEI. Ultimately, the statistics are published in the FT-895 report, “U.S. Trade with Puerto Rico and U.S. Possessions.”

For many years, the Census Bureau has received requests, from both the government of Puerto Rico and members of the international trade community, to eliminate the requirement of filing EEI for shipments between the United States and Puerto Rico in the Automated Export System, the entity said in a statement.

One of the reasons for requesting removal of the filing requirement is that it seems to treat Puerto Rico like a foreign country, when in fact Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and part of the U.S. customs area.

“Arguments have also been made that the requirement imposes a burden on what should be treated as interstate commerce, discourages manufacturers in the 50 states from shipping to Puerto Rico, and impedes economic development on the island,” the Census Burau said. “However, removal of the filing requirement could impact the quality and availability of key federal statistics. The Census Bureau is requesting information to assess potential impacts of a regulatory change in the filing requirements and to identify stakeholder priorities for data quality and availability.”

Comments must be submitted by Nov. 16 and they are to be part of the public record.

The Census Bureau says data on trade between the United States and its territories is used by other government agencies and private organizations. For example, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) uses the data to compile the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), one of the most anticipated economic indicators and the primary measure of the nation’s economy.

The BEA also uses the data in its initiative to estimate Puerto Rico GDP statistics, which are anticipated later this year. Given the magnitude of Puerto Rico’s trade with states, estimates of Puerto Rico GDP would be significantly compromised without the trade data from the filings. The Puerto Rico Planning Board, tasked with overseeing and promoting development in Puerto Rico, uses the trade statistics to produce statistical reports for the Puerto Rican government and businesses to make sound policy and business decisions, respectively.

“Although eliminating the mandatory requirement to file EEI for shipments between the United States and Puerto Rico would remove an additional step in the shipping process, there would be other implications associated with this change,” the Census Bureau said. “For example, the loss of data involving petroleum trade between the United States and Puerto Rico is a concern for the Department of Energy. There is currently no other source of information or method for tracking trade flows of oil and other energy-related commodities between the United States and Puerto Rico. The U.S. statistical system does not measure state-to-state imports and exports, only trade between states and the rest of the world.”

There is no alternative data source for collecting this information because Puerto Rico is not included in many other Census Bureau economic surveys. The Census Bureau is exploring options to include Puerto Rico in existing surveys to mitigate the significant loss of information about the economy of Puerto Rico that would result from eliminating the filing requirement. However, using other existing surveys to collect data on the economy of Puerto Rico would not result in the same data set that is currently available, the bureau noted.

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