The United States Customs Service is unlikely to extend the grace period for compliance with its new regulations for US-bound cargo, so the SAR's trade community will have to adjust, according to the Hong Kong Liner Shipping Association (HKLSA). US customs will from next week require cargo manifests for all goods moving to the US to be electronically submitted 24 hours before the vessel leaves the port, a rule exporters say they need more time to comply with to ensure trade is not disrupted. December 2 is the implementation date, with a two-month grace period from penalties for non-compliance. 'In September we, through the World Shipping Council, suggested a 12-month grace period would be needed. But that has not materialised so now our assignment is to get it to work within the three-month time frame offered,' HKLSA spokesman Steen Lund said. The Hong Kong Shippers Council last week asked US customs delegates in Hong Kong to extend the grace period, a request backed by local forwarders. At the time, HKLSA chairman Jim Poon Jim-yuen said the association would support the shippers if they felt they needed more time. But Mr Lund said at the weekend the HKLSA never intended to come out against the new rule. 'Before the rule was put into effect we requested a longer grace period, but it is not our place to oppose what is now a regulation for US trade. Yes, we would have liked longer to adjust, but now it is time to put our noses to the grindstone and isolate the details which will need to be ironed out for the industry to comply by the deadline,' Mr Lund said. He called the HKLSA's meeting with customs last Thursday productive. He felt US customs officials had been unfairly criticised for not providing enough information to shippers and forwarders on the manifest rule. Their mandate, he said, was to discuss the larger Container Security Initiative (CSI), which did not officially include the new manifest regulations. A declaration of principle was signed by Hong Kong for the CSI in September but an implementation date had not been agreed upon. China followed last month when President Jiang Zemin visited the Bush ranch in Texas. Customs asked shippers and forwarders to include 14 pieces of information, such as the shipper and consignee name, and description and quantity of the goods, 24 hours before the ship left the port of origin. After February 3, shipping lines submitting non-compliant cargo manifests will face heavy fines, no load orders or costly stateside inspection delays. As they will be holding the burden of risk, the lines are now urging shippers and forwarders to work towards becoming compliant within the deadline. Mr Lund said Thursday's meeting and subsequent question-and-answer period was used to outline US customs' expectations. It established how lines were to react to hold orders and how long the hold period was expected to be. There had been concern about stacks of rejected cargo disrupting the normal flow of trade at the port. More than two million boxes are shipped through Hong Kong to the US each year. 'The hold period will be as short as possible. The intention is that the cargo which needs to be inspected will make the sailing it was booked on. I don't see rejected cargo putting the port's operations in jeopardy. It is no one's intention to halt trade or the flow of bona fide goods,' Mr Lund said. Hong Kong Customs and Excise officials will inspect suspicious containers, which will be re-sealed by customs. Non-dangerous shipments, such as drugs or banned items, will be dealt with stateside. If a box is part of a shipment, only the suspicious container will be held while the rest of the order will be free to sail. Mr Lund said the customs team did not have all the answers, but promised to pass to Washington any questions they could not answer, with a response being directed to the HKLSA secretariat. He said while the carriers were represented at the meeting by the HKLSA, it would be up to the individual carriers to iron out their own details. 'We did not get full answers to all the questions we raised. But we certainly left the meeting wiser,' he said.