TI providers such as PIERS, Datamyne, Zepol, Import Genius, Panjiva (and a growing host of others) depend upon BOL data as the basis of their product offering. They all receive base shipping documents from U.S. Customs/DHS (Department of Homeland Security) via direct FTP feed or delivered on daily DVDs. Each follows their particular processes of collection, cleansing, standardization, verification, validation, enhancement and publication.
There are many names used to refer to this data. Among the identifiers I’ve heard (and used) alone or in combination are: AMS, BOL, Customs, Waterborne, Manifest, Shipping, Import, and others. Let’s clarify. Not less than 24 hours prior to an inbound shipment from a foreign port to the United States, a handful of documents must be filed with the U.S. Government (Customs and Border Protection), namely bill(s) of lading. By and large, these BOLS are filed electronically utilizing the AMS (Automated Manifest System).
For the purposes of this article we are limiting our discussion to U.S. waterborne (by sea) imports. There are also air and rail AMS as well as documents collected for trans-border shipments via truck to/from Canada or Mexico. Also excluded is transactional data collected on U.S. (waterborne) EXPORT shipments. At this juncture only PIERS, with an on-the-ground staff of reporters stationed at over 80 U.S. ports is able to collect and disseminate such information.
Thus, we address the roughly 15,000,000 annual waterborne (cargo carried by ship across a deep blue sea) shipments (BOLS) filed and collected via the AMS (computer) system by our friendly Customs officials, gathered and disseminated by your neighborhood TI provider via their particular product /interface (or purchased directly from DHS/Customs @$100 per day).
It’s all the same base data. There are different refinement processes and “value added” flavors added to the stew. The data is served in a plethora of fashions. Some TI providers dish up the data (or offer it on a self-serve basis) on paper plates while others have a cadre of courteous, well trained, superbly tailored trade experts to serve you.
There are only two dozen fields of data on any particular bill of lading that can be made publicly available, through the Freedom of Information Act. No TI provider or entity, despite size or age, has the right to more or less data. The basic available data elements are: (* signifies that the information is sometimes but not always listed):
- Consignee: (Name, Address, *Phone, *Email) Essentially the U.S.importer or buyer.
- Shipper: (Name, Address, *Phone, *Email) Essentially the foreign exporter or seller.
- Notify Party: (Who gets to know when the shipment arrives. There can be multiple “notifies”.)
- Product Description: (Sometimes extremely detailed including 10 digit HS identifiers, invoice #, product #, etc.)
- Marks and Numbers: (Notations on the boxes or containers, trademarks, product identifiers, etc.)
- Port Info: (Foreign, U.S. along with transfer points, plus a couple of other items.)
- Shipment detail: (BOL #, TEUs, weight, quantity, measurement, container #, container type.)
- Carrier detail: (Ship name, ship code, voyage #, Carrier /sub-carrier.)
- Misc: (A couple of other minor fields I won’t bother to mention.)
Call it what you want. The data reflects daily trading activity for U.S. import shipments by sea… end of line… end of story.