The COPII vesicular coat forms on the endoplasmic reticulum from Sar1-GTP, Sec23/24 and Sec13/31 protein subunits. Here, we define the interaction between Sec23/24.Sar1 and Sec13/31, involving a 40 residue Sec31 fragment. In the crystal structure of the ternary complex, Sec31 binds as an extended polypeptide across a composite surface of the Sec23 and Sar1-GTP molecules, explaining the stepwise character of Sec23/24.Sar1 and Sec13/31 recruitment to the membrane. The Sec31 fragment stimulates GAP activity of Sec23/24, and a convergence of Sec31 and Sec23 residues at the Sar1 GTPase active site explains how GTP hydrolysis is triggered leading to COPII coat disassembly. The Sec31 active fragment is accommodated in a binding groove supported in part by Sec23 residue Phe380. Substitution of the corresponding residue F382L in human Sec23A causes cranio-lenticulo-sutural dysplasia, and we suggest that this mutation disrupts the nucleation of COPII coat proteins at endoplasmic reticulum exit sites.