Protecting U.S.-Bound Container Cargoes

November 26, 2013 — Leave a comment
Securing US Cargo - Infographic by Journal of Commerce (Click to enlarge)

Securing US Cargo – Infographic by Journal of Commerce (Click to enlarge)

The Journal of Commerce provides a very useful infographic on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s efforts and initiatives in securing US – cargoes from foreign ports. While the Container Security Initiative (CSI) was one of the very first post 9/11 security initiatives it has since been supported by a number of other partnership programs involving other customs agencies and the US trade community. These have spawned many of the policies and guidelines being adopted by Customs agencies around the world where the WCO has ‘formulated’ and ‘standardised’ such requirements for broader international use, in conjunction with capacity building programs.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has published a report, “DHS Could Improve Cargo Security by Periodically Assessing Risks From Foreign Ports,” recommending that U.S. Customs and Border Protection should continually update and expand its Container Security Initiative.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, CBP has taken steps to reduce vulnerabilities associated with U.S.-bound cargo container shipments by placing customs officials at foreign seaports to determine whether U.S.-bound shipments from those ports pose a risk of containing weapons of mass destruction or other terrorist contraband. While cargo from foreign ports and ships is critical to the U.S. economy, it can also be exploited by terrorists.

When CSI was launched in 2002, CBP initially selected 23 CSI ports largely on the basis of the volume of U.S.-bound container cargo, but it increased the number of risk factors in selected additional ports as it expanded the CSI program beginning in 2003. Through 2007, CBP added 35 ports to the CSI program based on additional criteria, such as strategic threat factors and diplomatic or political considerations. As of July 2013, CBP was coordinating targeting of U.S.-bound cargo container shipments with 61 foreign ports in 34 countries.

Cargo shipment data from PIERS, JOC’s sister publication, supports the GAO’s view that the U.S. needs to update and expand CSI in order to continue effectively monitoring incoming cargo. In particular, it appears the U.S. should form new CSI partnerships with Vietnam and India, which are the Top 2 exporters to the U.S. with no established CSI partnerships.

Although Vietnam is “relatively stable” in terms of its government, it is geographically close to Laos and Cambodia, and is therefore risky because of transshipment issues, according to Susan Kohn Ross, an attorney with Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp in Los Angeles. She also noted there has been a trend of manufacturers moving from China to Vietnam recently, as labor has become more expensive in China, resulting in more Vietnamese exports to the U.S.

Meanwhile, local uprisings in India recently have increased the country’s vulnerabilities to terrorist plans, despite the nation’s stable government, Ross said. India’s proximity to Pakistan also exposes it to terrorist groups, such as al-Qaida and the Taliban, and because Pakistan already has an established CSI partnership, terrorists might find it easier to smuggle cargo via India, she explained.

Conversely, if budgetary constraints ever force the CSI program to condense its monitoring, then CSI partnerships could perhaps be downgraded or eliminated entirely with the governments of Jamaica, Oman and Greece, which are the smallest exporters to the U.S. with established CSI connections, according to PIERS.

However, expanding and even contracting the CSI program present challenges. For example, CBP officials said in the GAO report that it is difficult to close CSI ports because removing the program from a country might negatively affect U.S. relations with the host government.

Furthermore, implementing a CSI partnership in a country exposes jurisdictional issues and regulatory differences, Ross said. For instance, the U.S. considers drugs to be a national security issue, but that’s not always the case in other countries, so prioritization of monitoring has to be worked out. Issues like which nation should pay for customs officers to be trained, or who should fix scanning equipment when it breaks, also must be resolved.

Ross further explained that it is “highly unlikely” that the federal government will ever expand CSI to cover 100 percent of all U.S. imports, an idea that CBP considered in 2009, but never implemented because of budget constraints. She said that scanning equipment is not advanced enough to expeditiously monitor all U.S.-bound cargo, and not all countries would even be willing to put CSI in place anyway.

Ultimately, nothing is foolproof, and if terrorists really wanted to wreak havoc on the U.S., they could probably more easily attack the U.S. through its borders, via Canada and Mexico, Ross said. However, CSI acts as an important deterrent, limiting the number of chances a terrorist has to harm to the U.S. Source: www.joc.com

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