Paperwork plus getting it to the right person is key to agricultural exports around the world. Up until recently, shipment certification, authentication, confirmation, authorization and the other "ations" required in most nations was done using paper, real paper documents. It could get messy and it got old.
The Electronic Trade Document Exchange, or eTDE, was created to easy this logistical problem. It's changing the logistical game for many U.S. agricultural commodities. Ironically, the commodity it was first designed for, peanut, has yet to fully implement it.
Shipping a container of peanuts, getting them into ports and across border crossing with all the "I"s dotted and "T"s crossed "was a logistical nightmare. Though we did it for 30 years, it never got better. … It was a flood of paperwork," said Howard Valentine, noting that a single piece of missing paper too often held up commerce.
Valentine's the director of science and technology with the American Peanut Council, the trade association that includes all segments of the peanut industry. APC charged in 2006 a committee to find a better way for the U.S. peanut industry and its customers to share documents needed for business. It included peanut shellers, manufactures, the USDA Federal Food Safety and Inspection Service and associated aflatoxin labs. The USDA Foreign Agriculture Service funded it. Peanut was the guinea pig to get the system started for U.S. ag commodities.
"We lead the effort form the beginning, but like many things, change is sometimes met with resistance and that is what we're going through right now," he said, explaining that a lot of the problem is getting existing document systems used by peanut buyers and manufacturers to play nice with the eTDE system. Or simply put, the industry needs a big Information Technology Department "Come to Jesus" moment.
"It's a matter of getting all the players signed up to make the system function properly. Countries are starting to require documents electronically," he said. Canada, U.S. peanut's biggest customer, required some documents last year electronically and wants them all electronically in two years.
The system is in place now and works. It is housed on a secure USDA server, using the USDA's eAuthentification protocols, which insures security but easy document transfer.
Many U.S. commodities are using it, like meat and dairy. In fact, China recently wanted a securer way to be notified of meat and poultry shipments and specifically requested the eTDE system be used by all U.S. ag exporters. Most of the European Union is on board, along with Russia, and want to use the system.
Terry Shamblin is the president and CEO of the American Peanut Growers Group based in Donalsonville, Ga., representing about 120,000 tons of U.S. peanuts annually. He is steadily getting foreign inquiries for the group's peanuts, picking up a two-inch stack of papers from his desk for emphasis. The eTDE system would streamline business and his group can use it, he said. "From what I've seen, the program is good. But what's most important to us is if our customers are on-board. If it is something they require, we'll do it."