Embracing Blockchain for Cross-border Trade

In August of 2019, both the United States and Thailand announced their plans to test blockchain applications for tracking and managing shipments. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is planning to test a blockchain application against their current system to determine how distributed ledger technology (DLT) can improve its existing processes. Thailand, on the other hand, plans to use IBM’s blockchain-based logistics platform Tradelens to improve customs processes such as data sharing.

Originally developed in a joint venture between IBM and logistics giant Maersk, Tradelens seeks to streamline processes in the global shipping industry by making the flow of information occur in real-time. The blockchain platform is reported to currently process about half of the world’s shipping data.

These moves highlight countries’ increasing interest in employing blockchain technology in their customs and border operations. The Tradelens website says its ecosystem comprises over 100 different organizations including carriers, ports, terminal operators, third-party logistics firms, and freight forwarders. More specifically, a map on the Tradelens website suggests that about 60 ports and terminals worldwide are directly integrated with TradeLens.

Elsewhere, the Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union (TAXUD), which develops policies and operational systems for the European Customs Union, explored the applicability of blockchain in customs and taxation with a focus on utilizing blockchain as a notarization service.

The Union is looking into using blockchain to digitize ATA Carnet, an international customs document used in 87 countries for temporarily admitting goods duty-free. A pilot project conducted in collaboration with the International Chamber of Commerce World Chambers Federation (ICC WCF), was successfully tested in 2018. 

The ICC WCF, a body of the ICC that helps facilitate mutually beneficial partnerships between ICC members, has been working with different customs authorities to develop solutions for converting ATA Carnets into electronic documents.

About 80 countries around the world have developed authorized economic operator (AEO) programs and signed a mutual recognition agreement (MRA), all in an effort to streamline cargo security. Under such arrangements, individual countries identify and approve trustworthy logistics operators that pose a low risk in security and share the approval information with participating countries. 

This allows countries to piggyback on the security checks of other countries to make customs operations more efficient. However, a few problems have arisen with the program. 

  • There are information leakage risks associated with the conventional way of sharing AEO data by email. While a sender’s email server may be encrypted, there is no guarantee that the receiver’s is as well, and vice versa.
  • Data sharing is not real-time, but monthly or at an agreed-upon interval. This limits the speed at which information on new or suspended AEOs can reach all participants.

To avoid the aforementioned problems as well as achieve additional time and cost savings on security procedures, customs administrations in Mexico, Peru and Costa Rica are working with the Inter-American Development Bank to develop a blockchain application called Cadena.

The move by governments around the world to employ blockchain to improve cross-border trade marks a step toward paperless customs processes, which originally began with the digitization of information flows by making trade-related data and documents available and exchangeable electronically. For all the improvements they’ve brought to paper-heavy processes, traditional electronic data exchange systems still face the challenges of authenticity and the unavailability of real-time data exchange.

For instance, the Netherlands and China launched a five-year project in 2010 to test the applicability of electronic sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) certificates. A World Economic Forum white paper titled “Paperless Trading: How Does It Impact the Trade System?” noted that concerns around the authenticity of the electronic documents arose. This necessitated the adoption of electronic signature systems and a whole new legal framework that recognized the electronic signature.

Still, the entire process requires longer procedures and the introduction of new types of intermediaries — e-signature providers, for instance. Moreover, low-income countries, the trade costs of which remain high compared to high-income countries as according to World Bank data, may not have the budget to implement several new systems for data and document digitization. They still need to invest in better customs infrastructure. 

Blockchain, on the other hand, if implemented in border protection, will ensure real-time availability and immutability of customs documents while saving considerable costs on excessive paperwork.

Source: Original article titled: “Blockchain Adoption as a Cure for Cross-Border Trading“, authored by Craig Adeyanju, Cointelegraph.com, 2019.09.28

9/11 – 18 years on

WTC 6, home to the US Customs Service, New York until September 2001

As unrecognisable as the building is, the same can be said for the world of Customs today. Few contemplated a ‘Customs’ parallel at the time; but, when the Department of Homeland Security was launched, the emergence of US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) ushered in a new way of doing business. The world of Customs was literally ‘turned on its head’. Bilateral overtures seeking agreements on ‘container security’, ‘port security’ as well as an industry focussed ‘Customs and Trade Partnership Against Terrorism’ (C-TPAT) forced the World Customs Organisation (WCO) into swift action. After years of deliberation and negotiation several guidelines were released, later to be packaged as the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards. It seemed that the recent Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC) on simplification and harmonisation of Customs procedures was already ‘dated’. Customs as a proud solo entity was gone for ever, as country after country seemed compelled to address border security through wholesale transformation and upheaval of their border frontier policies and structures. Thus was born ‘border security’ and ‘cooperative border management’. In a manner of speaking, 9/11 put Customs onto the global map. Along with WCO developments, the tech industries brought about several innovations for risk management and other streamlined and efficient service offerings. Prior to 9/11, only the wealthy countries could afford non-intrusive inspection capabilities. One key aspect of the SAFE Framework’s was to include a pillar on Capacity Building. Through this, the WCO and business partners are able to offer tailor-made assistance to developing countries, to uplift their Customs and border capabilities. In particular, countries in Africa now are now in a position to consider ‘automated’ capabilities in the area of Customs-2-Customs information exchange as well as establishment of national Preferred Trader and Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) schemes. At the same time a parallel industry of ‘Customs Experts’ is being developed in conjunction with the private sector. The end result is the availability of ‘standards’, ‘policies’ and ‘guidelines’ fit for Customs and Border operations, focussed on eliminating incompatibilities and barriers to trade. Where these exist, they are largely attributed to poor interpretation and application of these principles. With closer cooperation amongst various border authorities still a challenge for many countries, there are no doubt remedies available to address these needs. In gratitude, let us remember the thousands of public servants and civilians who lost their lives that we can benefit today.

USCBP seizes MSC Gayane with 18 tonnes of cocaine aboard

MSC Gayane

US customs officials seized a container ship financed by JPMorgan this week after authorities found nearly 18 tons of cocaine with an estimated street value of $1.3 billion in the vessel.

The drug bust on the Liberian-flagged MSC Gayane is surprising for several reasons. The sheer quantity of cocaine it was carrying, its links to JPMorgan, its presence in the US, and the recent string of West African drug busts are worth noting.

A container ship financed by JPMorgan was seized by US customs officials this week after authorities found nearly 18 tons of cocaine with an estimated street value of $1.3 billion on the vessel. The drug bust on the MSC Gayane is surprising for several reasons, outlined below.

The roughly 39,500 pounds, or 17.9 metric tons, of cocaine – about the same weight as three African bull elephants – found aboard the MSC Gayane outweighed the total amount of cocaine that passed through West Africa in 2013 and all of the cocaine seized across Africa from 2013 to 2016, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The vast quantity may reflect a supply glut. Global cocaine manufacturing surged by a quarter in 2016 to 1,410 tons, according to the World Drug Report 2018. The production boom is centered in Colombia, where cultivation of the coca plant rose 17% to 171,000 hectares in 2017, according to the UN.

The link between the MSC Gayane and JPMorgan may be the most surprising aspect of the drug bust.

The MSC Gayane is operated by the Switzerland-based Mediterranean Shipping Co., but JPMorgan helped finance MSC’s purchase of the ship. The two reportedly structured the purchase so the ship was owned by client assets in a transportation strategy fund run for JPMorgan’s asset-management arm.

JPMorgan hasn’t yet publicly addressed its association with the vessel, and it has declined to comment to Markets Insider.

The MSC Gayane sailed under the flag of Liberia, a West African country. West Africa is a popular transit route for smugglers between South America and Europe because of its porous borders, weak rule of law, largely unmonitored coastline, and limited infrastructure and resources. The proportion of cocaine seizures in Africa accounted for by West Africa rose to 78% in 2016, “reflecting the rapidly growing importance of West Africa as a transit area,” the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said.

But there appears to be little drug smuggling between West Africa and the US, making the MSC Gayane drug bust highly unusual. Higher street prices and a lower risk of getting caught make Europe a more lucrative and attractive market than the US, the Nigerian drug smuggler Chigbo Umeh told The Guardian in 2015.

While notable, the ship’s flag doesn’t necessarily implicate Liberia.

“A Liberian registered ship is not in itself a link with the West Africa drug economy,” Mark Shaw, the director of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, said in an interview with Markets Insider. “Liberia serves as a flag state for much shipping.”

The drug bust on a Liberian-flagged vessel is the latest in a string of major seizures linked to West African countries this year.

In May 2018, Algerian officials seized more than 1,500 pounds of cocaine on a Liberian-registered container ship that was transporting frozen meat from Brazil, according to the BBC. In February of this year, Cape Verde officials found 21,000 pounds of cocaine, with a street value north of $700 million, on a Panamanian-flagged vessel. A month later, authorities in Guinea-Bissau notched their biggest-ever cocaine bust – and the country’s first in a decade – when they discovered more than 1,700 pounds of the drug hidden in a false bottom of a truck loaded with fish.

“There were doubts whether West Africa was still being used as a major transit route, but these seizures seem to suggest that there is a return,” Shaw said in an interview with Bloomberg in March. “It’s a surprise and it’s very significant.”

Source: The article was written by Theron Mohamed, Market Insider, 11 July 2019

CBP – e-Commerce Strategy to address online shopping and growth of illicit goods

E-Commerce Strategic PlanCustoms and Border Protection has developed an e-commerce strategy in a bid to tackle the increase in online shopping and growth of illicit and counterfeit goods shipped as small packages.

The strategy, which notes that CBP must “adapt” to the new e-commerce landscape, seeks to address emerging threats posed by the global change in commerce habits and ensure CBP has the means to enforce violations.

Under the new e-commerce strategy, CBP will, among a number of measures, look to enhance data collection and intelligence, develop and utilise state-of-the-art techniques and technologies, review its existing legal and regulatory authorities, seek to strengthen partnerships with the private sector, facilitate international trade standards for e-commerce, and educate the American public of the risks, both as consumers and as importers, associated with non-compliant products.

The crackdown and new emphasis for the CBP reflects the shift from traditional methods of importing via large, containerised shipments to small, low-value packages as direct-to-consumer business becomes more common. This has presented new inspection and data challenges for CBP, especially as the volume of these small packages has increased.

In addition, transnational criminal organisations are increasingly shipping illicit goods to the US via small packages on the belief there is a lower risk of interdiction and less severe enforcement consequences if caught. CBP said this illicit activity poses a risk to the health and safety of Americans and compromises US economic security.

The new e-commerce strategy also follows a report last month by the Government Accountability Office, which reviewed the enforcement efforts by CBP and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in light of the increase in online shopping and sale of counterfeit goods. The report found that CBP had conducted a limited evaluation of its efforts, suggesting its activities were not the most efficient or effective, and recommended it evaluate its activities to enhance intellectual property enforcement.

The new strategy has a strong focus on data, which is one of the current limitations around enforcement of small packages. For instance, according to the strategy document, CBP will strengthen partnerships with stakeholders and encourage information sharing, proposing benefits for those parties who share advance electronic data and other information and will penalise those who are not compliant in this area.

The agency will also increase its operational efficiency and effectiveness by using data analytics, data mining, and an array of powerful analytical tools. In addition, CBP will expand its existing advance electronic data pilot in the international mail environment to include additional foreign postal operators.

Potential technology options include mobile applications and an e-commerce resource library, the strategy notes. CBP will also develop a portal that contains a database on importers that CBP has vetted and deemed “trusted”.

Source: USCBP and Securing Industry, online article 2018.03.28

U.S. Border Searches of Electronic Devices

Mobility concept

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Index, and National File Tracking System of Records, implemented new or modified uses of information maintained on individuals as they pass through the immigration process. The new requirements became effective as of 18 October 2017.

The new regulation updates the categories of individuals covered, to include: individuals acting as legal guardians or designated representatives in immigration proceedings involving an individual who is physically or developmentally disabled or severely mentally impaired (when authorized); Civil Surgeons who conduct and certify medical examinations for immigration benefits; law enforcement officers who certify a benefit requestor’s cooperation in the investigation or prosecution of a criminal activity; a­nd interpreters.

It also expands the categories of records to include: country of nationality; country of residence; the USCIS Online Account Number; social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results; and EOIR and BIA proceedings information.
The new regulation also includes updated record source categories to include: publicly available information obtained from the internet; public records; public institutions; interviewees; commercial data providers; and information obtained and disclosed pursuant to information sharing agreements.

With this latest expansion of data allowed to be collected, it begs the question: How does one protect sensitive data housed on electronic devices? In addition to inspecting all persons, baggage, and merchandise at a port-of-entry, CBP does indeed have the authority to search electronic devices too. CBP’s stance is that consent is not required for such a search. This position is supported by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has determined that such border searches constitute reasonable searches; and therefore, do not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment.

Despite this broad license afforded CBP at the port-of-entry, CBP’s authority is checked somewhat in that such searches do not include information located solely in the cloud. Information subject to search must be physically stored on the device in order to be accessible at the port-of-entry. Additionally, examination of attorney-client privileged communications contained on electronic devices first requires CBP’s consultation with Associate/Assistant Chief Counsel of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

So what may one do to prevent seizure of an electronic device or avoid disclosure of confidential data to CBP during a border search? The New York and Canadian Bar Associations have compiled the following recommendations:

  • Consider carrying a temporary or travel laptop cleansed of sensitive local documents and information. Access data through a VPN connection or cloud-based warehousing.
  • Consider carrying temporary mobile devices stripped of contacts and other confidential information. Have calls forwarded from your office number to the unpublished mobile number when traveling.
  • Back up data and shut down your electronic device well before reaching the inspection area to eliminate access to Random Access Memory.
  • Use an alternate account to hold sensitive information. Apply strong encryption and complex passwords.
  • Partition and encrypt the hard drive.
  • Protect the data port.
  • Clean your electronic device(s) following return.
  • Wipe smartphones remotely.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Source: article originally published by Mondaq.com, author: Cory, J (2017:11)

C-TPAT falters – how ‘SAFE’ are the world’s AEO programmes?

AEO group

The following article appeared on Maritime Executive’s webpage titled ‘Can C-TPAT be fixed?‘ authored by Stephen L. Caldwell (2017-07-18). The assessment reveals that Customs-Trade partnerships require continuous review and enhancement to retain their appeal and relevance – a significant challenge for customs and border authorities primarily focussed on compliance with the law. I have appended hyperlinks to the critic’s articles at the bottom of this post.

As the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism celebrates its fifteenth anniversary, it faces stagnant membership, software train wrecks, questionable assertions of benefits and a much- needed retooling to stay current.

The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) is a voluntary security program started in the aftermath of 9/11. Member companies sign up and agree to maintain strong supply chain security. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) staff then validate members’ security practices to ensure they meet minimum criteria. Members are then eligible for benefits such as reduced likelihood that CBP will examine their shipments.

C-TPAT currently has about 11,500 members including importers, consolidators, sea carriers, port terminals and foreign manufacturers. Membership is segregated into three “Tiers” with Tier I representing companies that sign up, Tier II representing validated members, and Tier III representing companies with the highest demonstrated level of security.

The program grew rapidly in the beginning, reaching 1,500 members by 2002, 3,000 by 2003, 7,000 by 2004 and 10,000 by 2012. Given this growth, Congress wanted to make sure it was more than just a “sign- up sheet” and asked its watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), to monitor the program.

GAO’s July 2003 report found that, after companies signed up but before any validation process was completed, CBP went ahead and provided benefits by reducing their scores in its risk algorithm. By May 2003, for example, there were 3,355 members receiving benefits but only 15 had been validated. It took a couple of years to work down the backlog.

Even then, GAO’s March 2005 report found the validation process was not rigorous enough to ensure that a company’s security practices were reliable, accurate and effective. Its 2008 report found that CBP still faced challenges in verifying that C-TPAT members met minimum security criteria. It also found that CPB’s records management system did not allow managers to determine whether C-TPAT members complied with program requirements.

Midlife Crisis

Michael Laden, head of customs compliance firm Trade Innovations in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, has been helping industry clients with C-TPAT since 2005. Laden has been a licensed customs broker since 1981 and served as Director of Global Trade Services at Target Corporation prior to founding his own firm. He believes that C-TPAT is having a midlife crisis: “The stagnation of membership levels in the 10,000-12,000 range is an indication that industry has lost its appetite for C-TPAT.” He cites a problematic history of revolving short-term leadership as part of the problem.

Laden says the program reached its nadir with the August 2015 release of the much-anticipated Portal 2.0 software, designed to further automate the validation process. “The release was rushed into service with limited capabilities and minimal pre-testing,” he explains. “It was a complete train wreck. The data from the previous version just disappeared. In some cases, not only did the data disappear but the company disappeared too.”

The problems with Portal 2.0 were documented in GAO’s most recent report of February 2017, which found that Portal 2.0 incorrectly altered C-TPAT members’ certifications or security profiles, impairing the ability of C-TPAT specialists to identify and complete required security validations. Portal 2.0 problems also prevented C-TPAT members from accessing their own data and responding to validation reports.

Since C-TPAT was presented as a partnership with CBP benefiting from its knowledge of member companies’ security practices and companies benefiting from reduced scrutiny of their shipments, CBP in 2012 developed a software “Dashboard” to track such benefits. It used the Dashboard in its Program Benefits Reference Guide to assert that entries filed by C-TPAT members were less likely to undergo a security examination than those filed by non-members. Tier III members, for example, were nine times less likely to be examined, and Tier II members 3.5 times less likely.

However, the February 2017 GAO analysis found that C-TPAT members’ shipments did not consistently experience lower examinations, hold rates or processing times compared to non-member shipments. When GAO shared its preliminary analysis with C-TPAT officials, they acknowledged that they had never completed system verification, acceptance-testing, or checks on the data in the Dashboard. GAO’s conclusion was that the data was unreliable going back to the Dashboard’s introduction in 2012, and CBP to this day remains unable to determine the benefits of C-TPAT membership.

Industry Finds Its Own Solutions  

While industry was anxious for definitive information on membership benefits, it decided to find its own solutions to some of the costs. One key cost involves security audits of the supply chain, particularly in foreign countries. Shippers and importers got together and created the Supplier Compliance Audit Network (SCAN) to address costs, “audit fatigue,” inconsistent reporting and varying compliance requirements.

Companies pay a sliding fee to become part of SCAN, where they can commission audits and get access to completed audits, which could obviate the need for a new audit of a particular supplier. In 2016, SCAN completed more than 3,379 audits in 51 countries. Its board of directors represents some of the largest importers in the U.S., and its audits are conducted by proven service providers such as Bureau Veritas and business standards company BSI.

Dan Purtell, Senior Vice President of 30 BSI’s Supply Chain Solutions Group, says, “SCAN members clearly see the benefit of the C-TPAT program. These companies are the ‘who’s who’ of the Tier III C-TPAT community and truly are the supply chain security thought-leaders within the private sector. Member companies compete on the shelf but unite to secure trade, mitigate supply chain risk, and identify and correct security deficiencies.”

Purtell notes that “More than 15,000 such deficiencies have been remedied by SCAN since its inception just two years ago. No other association has done more to address global supply chain exposures.”

Next Steps

Despite problems, there are signs of improvement according to Trade Innovations’ Laden, starting with the decision by the last CBP Commissioner to make the Director of C-TPAT a more permanent position. “This should add continuity to the leadership of the program,” he explains, “allowing it to reach its true potential.” Laden also praises the new Director, Elizabeth Schmelzinger, for her openness to listen to industry.

“We’re retooling the program so that it stays current,” says Schmelzinger. “There are a lot of factors that have changed over the years. We want to make sure the minimum standards are still relevant.” CBP had enlisted its industry-based Commercial Operations Advisory Committee (COAC) to help it validate those minimum standards and develop C-TPAT best practices with the results to be announced at COAC’s March 1 meeting in Washington, DC. However, it was announced at the meeting that the results had been delayed to “make sure they get it right.”

When asked whether the intent of revisiting the minimum standards was to increase membership, Schmelzinger responded: “C-TPAT’s standards remain high. It’s not all about joining the program. We also suspend companies and remove them from the program. So, there is a constant churn in membership.”

She also described the evolving roles of C-TPAT and CBP’s newer Trusted Trader program, noting that “C-TPAT was foundational to any Trusted Trader status.” In other words, the first element of a Trusted Trader program was to ensure security. Then the elements of compliance with rules and regulations would be taken into consideration.

Ultimately, C-TPAT and Trusted Trader would transition into a global safety net whereby low-risk importers and exporters would have their goods expedited through customs processes in both the U.S. and its trading partners.

AEOs and Mutual Recognition

In international parlance, security partnership arrangements like C-TPAT are called Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) programs. The U.N. reported that, as of 2016, some 79 countries had established AEO programs and an additional 16 planned to launch such programs in the near future. The E.U., consisting of 28 countries, has the largest program, and its Union Customs Code of 2013 aims to, among other things, reinforce swifter customs procedures for compliant AEOs.

Many countries with AEO programs, including the U.S. with its C-TPAT, have signed “mutual recognition agreements” whereby two countries’ customs administrations agree to recognize the AEO authorization issued under the other’s program and provide reciprocal benefits to companies. As of May 2016, some 40 bilateral agreements had been concluded with 30 more being negotiated. According to the U.N., these bilateral agreements will form the basis for multilateral agreements. To date, the U.S. has signed 11 agreements with, among others, the E.U., Canada, Mexico, Japan and Korea.

C-TPAT Director Schmelzinger adds that “We are also restructuring the program to include exports so that it is more in line with the structure of other countries’ AEO programs. As part of our agreements with countries that have AEO programs, those countries will honor a commitment to our exporters who are low- risk. This will help U.S. exporters establish a foothold in those markets.”

One Step at a Time

Michael Laden is more skeptical of mutual recognition, calling it a “noble gesture” but adding there will be little enthusiasm from industry. Most of his clients are importers and will not get any benefit from the new export component.

Regarding exporters, he says that “Since CBP so rarely examines exports, the usual benefit offered by C-TPAT membership does not exist for that part of industry.” In Laden’s view, “Let’s fix C-TPAT before we move on to harmonize customs security and compliance throughout the world.”    Source: Maritime-Executive

Recommended reading –

 

USCBP donates border protection equipment to SARS

CBPSARS3

The U.S. Embassy in South Africa’s office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) donated border enforcement equipment and tools to the South African Revenue Service (SARS) at their K-9 facility in Kempton Park today. The equipment will be utilized in support SARS’ efforts to safeguard the borders in South Africa. The donation, valuing more than $105,000, includes vehicle GPS units, field binoculars, night vision goggles, handheld thermal imagers, radiation detector/pagers, and contraband detection kits.

The donation is a part of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s longstanding partnership with the government of South Africa to support border security, trade facilitation and combat wildlife trafficking. U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Jessye Lapenn said, “Following South Africa’s success in hosting the 17th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2016, we are delighted to support your continued efforts. This equipment will be used to help conserve your incredibly diverse wildlife species, promote economic development, and combat the multi-billion dollar illicit wildlife trade within your borders, across our borders, and globally. I am proud of the great work our South African and American teams have done together on these issues. Together, we are making a difference.”

An executive for Customs at SARS said, “from the South African perspective, we acknowledge and receive these ‘tools of the trade’ from the United States with gratitude. This donation will strengthen our long-lasting relationship with the United States, which has been assisting us since the 1990s. Our work together has helped us improve our fight against the illicit economy.”

With more than 60,000 employees, CBP is one of the world’s largest law enforcement organizations and is charged with keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade. As the United States’ first unified border entity, CBP takes a comprehensive approach to border management and control, combining customs, immigration, border security, and agricultural protection into one coordinated and supportive activity. The men and women of CBP are responsible for enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws and regulations. On a typical day, CBP welcomes nearly one million visitors, screens more than 67,000 cargo containers, arrests more than 1,100 individuals, and seizes nearly six tons of illicit drugs. Annually, CBP facilitates an average of more than $3 trillion in legitimate trade while enforcing U.S. trade laws.

Source:  APO on behalf of U.S. Embassy Pretoria, South Africa.

Houston International Airport – Customs officers take a closer look at faces

Customs and Border Protection is analyzing the distance between travelers’ eyes and the width of their foreheads to better track international travelers.

This week the agency began using facial recognition technology at Bush Intercontinental Airport on one daily flight departing Houston for Tokyo.

“The use of biometrics is approaching an almost everyday type of experience,” said Henry Harteveldt, founder of San Francisco-based Atmosphere Research Group, a travel industry research company. “It’s much more common now than it was 10 to 20 years ago.”

Similar technology is increasingly used everywhere. For instance, fingerprints are used to unlock phones and access secure banking information. Facebook can automatically recognize and tag friends in photos. And a variety of airport entities, ranging from airlines to the Transportation Security Administration, also are using biometric data to enhance security and expedite traveling.

Some still question the reliability of facial recognition technology, but it has evolved over the years and continues improving.

Delta and JetBlue recently announced collaborations with Customs and Border Protection to integrate facial recognition technology as part of the boarding process. And Customs began piloting its own facial recognition technology in June 2016 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The technology then was rolled out at Washington Dulles International Airport in May 2017, and seven additional airports will receive the technology in the next several months.

Customs “sees potential for the technology to transform the travel process provided privacy issues can be addressed,” an agency spokesperson said in an email.

“The use of biometrics to confirm identity from the beginning to the end of travel has the potential to reduce the frequency travelers have to present travel documents throughout the airport.”

Currently, the system takes pictures of individual travelers right before they board an international flight. That photo is then compared with a flight-specific photo gallery Customs and Border Protection created using travel documents passengers provided to the airline.

Officials say capturing this type of biometric information will ensure travelers aren’t lying about their identity. And the agency spokesperson emphasized that Customs worked closely with its privacy office. If the photo captured at boarding is matched to a U.S. passport, the photo of that traveler – having been confirmed as a U.S. citizen – is discarded after a short period of time.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any resistance by consumers to this,” Harteveldt said, “provided they’re given very clear explanations about what information is being collected, why it’s being collected and a high-level understanding of the safeguards that will be taken to keep their biometrics data safe and secure.”

 Opinions vary on whether capturing such data from departing travelers will boost security or hurt airlines’ on-time performance. But the point is moot. Laws requiring exit control have been on the books for many years.

“It is already required by law, and it has taken way too long to implement an effective exit technology,” said Andrew Arthur, resident fellow in law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that pushes for stricter immigration controls.

He said monitoring foreign travelers as they leave the U.S. helps enforce immigration laws. And if visitors enter the country legally but officials later realize they pose a threat, this exit system will tell officials if they are still in the U.S.

Harteveldt, however, said passport and visa information is already collected when travelers leave the country. He doesn’t believe biometrics are needed.”I’m just not sure it adds a lot of value to the exit process,” he said.

But compared with fingerprint technology, Harteveldt said facial scanning can be faster and cleaner. There’s no need to touch anything. Customs officers at Bush Intercontinental began taking the fingerprints of some departing international travelers in 2015.

Anthony Roman, president of global investigation and risk management firm Roman & Associates, said the best type of security is layered and uses cross-verification, such as a Customs and Border Protection officer checking passports, fingerprinting machines and facial recognition technology.

As for the latter, he said developers claim to have solved problems found in the older facial recognition technology. These past problems included false readings caused by a shadow on the face, blinking at the wrong time or even grimacing. Algorithms were also slow at processing the data.

The new technology is supposed to be faster and more accurate. “Whether that’s true or not, time will tell,” Roman said.

Arthur is still waiting to see that facial recognition technology is as reliable as fingerprinting. He wants to know the number of false positives and if facial recognition technology is affected by haircuts, beards or glasses.

They both agree, however, that the vigilance is warranted.

“Our technology needs to keep evolving,” Roman said. “We need to keep changing what we’re doing. It makes it more difficult for the insurgents to create long-term research and development projects to overcome existing technology.” Source: Houston Chronicle

“The Wall” – USCBP extends notices for expression of interest

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The notices detailing President Donald Trump’s promise to build a “big, attractive wall” were made public late Friday (3 April 2017) by Customs and Border Protection. The request from the Customs and Border Protection Department called for a 30-ft-high wall, but said that plans to build a wall minimum 18 ft in height may be acceptable.

“The north side of wall (i.e. USA facing side) shall be aesthetically pleasing in color, anti-climb texture, etc., to be consistent with general surrounding environment”, reads the RFP. In the documents, CBP says that the side facing the US must also be “aesthetically pleasing” in “color, anti-climb texture etc., to be consistent with general surrounding environment”.

And that’s before a new Trump budget, which came out Thursday, includes $2.6 billion over two years to begin construction of the wall. The government is asking for a 9-meter-high concrete barrier, extending 2 meters underground, built to be “physically imposing” and capable of resisting nearly any attack, “by sledgehammer, vehicle jack, pickaxe, chisel, battery-operated impact tools, battery-operated cutting tools [or] oxy/acetylene torch”.

Earlier this week Mexican lawmakers increased pressure on Mexican construction firms tempted to help build deeply reviled wall.

The proposal document asks contractors for 30-foot-long prototypes and mock-ups of 10 feet by 10 feet. Although Trump made it a centerpiece of his presidential campaign to get the Mexican government tol pay for the wall, expectations are low that the U.S.’s southern neighbor will give money while it’s being built or afterwards.

The specifications leave almost all of the design work to interested bidders, who now have about two weeks to develop and submit their plans, known as proposals. Trump called for the wall to stop illegal immigration into the United States from Mexico and to cut off drug-smuggling routes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) said in January that the wall would cost between $12 billion and $15 billion, though other estimates have put the price tag as high $25 billion.

There was some misplaced optimism that Donald Trump would immediately jettison all of his inane campaign promises upon taking office; that the threat of a wall at the Mexican border would be quietly tabled for its obvious insanity.

Proponents of a wall make two questionable assumptions: First, that there will be a continued north flow of refugees. Friday’s release did not address the overall cost of the wall. The city of Berkeley, California, said last week it would refuse to do business with any company that’s part of the border wall. The cost of about 1,000 miles of wall could cost $21.6 billion between now and 2020. Published on Aliveforfootbal website

U.S. Customs to ask travelers for their social media accounts

USCBPThe US government is proposing making social media accounts part of the visa screening process for entry into the country.

US Customs and Border Protection’s proposed change would add a line on both the online and paper forms of the visa application form that visitors to the US must fill out if they do not have a visa and are planning on staying for up to 90 days.

The following question would be added to both the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (Esta) and I-94W forms: “Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier.”

The information will be optional, for now, but the proposed change published by the US Federal Register states that “collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide Department of Homeland Security (DHS) greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.”

The proposal is currently under consultation, with US government taking comments until 22 August.

The change forms part of the plan by the US DHS to scrutinise social media activity of visa applicants and those wishing to enter the country, following the San Bernardino killings in California, in which social media profiles formed part of the investigations along with an iPhone 5C.

Current DHS pilot programmes are being kept under wraps but are said to scan a limited amount of social media posts.

The pilot programmes currently used by DHS do not sweep up all social media posts, though government officials have kept details of the programmes closely held, as they do not want to reveal the precise process they use to try and identify potential threats.

It’s unclear if or how the DHS would verify information written on a form before hitting border control, leaving the possibility of false information being put down, and while the information may be optional, it will likely be difficult to discern what is and isn’t required on the form.

The US government approves around 10m visa applications a year and had 77.5 million foreign visitors in 2015. Collecting social media accounts for all visitors could produce one of the largest government-controlled databases of its kind almost overnight. Source: Customstoday

9/11 14 years on…

CBP Commemoration 9-11

We will never forget the ones we lost 14 years ago and we honor the bravery of those who worked to save others. @CustomsBorder

US Customs seizes fake Gucci and Louis Vuitton handbags

USCP Counterfeit stuffThousands of counterfeit designer handbags have been uncovered by federal officers in a shipping container at Miami’s seaport.

Customs and Border Protection officials say a recent review confirmed there were 1,200 fake Gucci handbags and 1,195 Louis Vuitton handbags in the container. The bags were initially seized Aug. 19 in a shipment from China.

Authorities say the handbags are worth more than $1 million if sold as legitimate.

Investigators began examining cartons containing the handbags after noting that they were not declared on any import documents. The shipment included 825 other cartons of clothes, shoes and similar apparel.

Last year CBP seized more than 23,000 counterfeit items nationally worth about $1.2 billion.

CBP Launches “Know the Facts” Awareness Campaign

Know the FactsU.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske formally rolled out the “Know the Facts” campaign today. The campaign, launched on July 20 in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, encourages those considering attempts to illegally enter the U.S., to “Know the Facts” and avoid embarking on the dangerous trek north only to be returned to their country.

“This campaign is designed to educate would-be travelers in Central America and Mexico about the realities of the journey north human smugglers have no regard for human life,” said CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske. “It is critical that they are aware of the facts behind U.S. immigration policies before risking their lives. There are no ‘permisos.’”

The campaign is designed to increase awareness of U.S. immigration policies and enhanced enforcement on the U.S. border, clearly and simply stating the facts behind U.S. immigration policies. Source: USCBP

US Customs to assist exporters in resolving disputes with foreign customs

CBP logoU.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) published a Federal Register Notice inviting U.S. exporters to request CBP’s assistance in resolving disputes with foreign customs agencies over the tariff classification or customs valuation of U.S. exports. CBP explains that it is willing to assist U.S. exporters with these disputes under the auspices of the World Customs Organization (WCO). CBP is very active at the WCO and regularly participates in meetings concerning the application of the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS System) and the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Customs Valuation Agreement (CVA). According to CBP, this process was helpful in providing a successful outcome for clients who disputed a foreign customs agency’s classification of imported goods.

Tariff Classification
CBP represents the United States at meetings under the auspices of the International Convention on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (“HS Convention”). The HS Convention is the international agreement that provides that WCO Members will implement the HS System and comply with decisions of the various committees organized under the convention. CBP attends semiannual meetings of the WCO’s Harmonized System Committee (HSC), where contracting parties to the HS Convention examine policy matters, make decisions on classification questions, settle disputes, and prepare amendments to the HS System and its Explanatory Notes.

Article 10 of the HS Convention governs disputes between contracting parties concerning the interpretation or application of the HS Convention. The article provides that parties with potential disputes should first try to settle the dispute through bilateral negotiations. If such negotiation cannot resolve the dispute, the parties may refer the dispute to the HSC for its consideration and recommendations. The HSC, in turn, refers irreconcilable disputes to the WCO Council for its recommendations.

Customs Valuation
CBP represents the United States at the WCO with respect to issues arising under the CVA. Pursuant to Annex II to the CVA, the WCO’s Technical Committee on Customs Valuation (TCCV) is authorized to examine specific problems arising from the customs valuation systems of WTO Members. The TCCV is responsible for examining the administration of the CVA, providing WTO Members with advisory opinions regarding particular customs valuation issues, and issuing commentaries or explanatory notes regarding the CVA. Like the HSC, the TCCV may get involved in disputes amongst foreign customs agencies. CBP stands willing to help U.S. exporters with these disputes. This process may provide U.S. exporters with a faster procedure to resolve disputes than a typical WTO dispute.

CBP’s Role at the WCO May Resolve Export Issues for U.S. Exporters
CBP states in the notice that its communication with other customs administrations through the meetings of the HSC and TCCV at the WCO can “often serve to eliminate or resolve export issues for U.S. traders.” As an example, in 2014, a U.S. exporter notified CBP of a foreign customs administration’s misclassification of its textile exports. The U.S. exporter requested that pursuant to Article 10 of the HS Convention, CBP (1) contact the foreign customs administration to resolve the tariff classification dispute; and (2) refer the matter to the HSC at the WCO, if it could not be resolved bilaterally. After confirming it agreed with the U.S. exporter’s position, CBP engaged the foreign customs administration directly. Within seven months of the exporter’s request, CBP secured a favorable decision by the foreign customs administration to classify the merchandise in a manner consistent with the U.S. position. Consequently, the U.S. exporter obtained correct tariff treatment of its imported merchandise in the foreign country as a result of CBP’s engagement.

Source: http://www.internationaltradecomplianceupdate.com/