U.S.-Europe Pact Near

U.S.-Europe Pact Near

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

The European Union and the United States are close to a container security agreement that would replace the current patchwork of pacts between the United States and EU countries, eliminating at least one source of transatlantic friction.

At the same time, the European Union will rationalize EU customs regulations and give customs organizations a greater role in managing security at the community''s external borders.

As part of that effort, Europeans will get a "24-hour rule" of their own. The European Commission - the administrative branch of the European Union - is proposing that cargo information be provided to EU customs officials 24 hours before a shipment arrives at an EU port.

"This is very different from the U.S. measure, which requires advance cargo information 24 hours before loading in the country of export," said Frits Bolkestein, European commissioner for taxation and customs.

"The implementation of these measures will certainly increase the security of the global supply chain," Bolkestein said at a Dec. 1 freight forwarder conference in Brussels. "The EU and the U.S. will be working hand in hand to secure trade and to ensure equal conditions."

For the first time, he said, "customs controls across the community will be based on common risk criteria for the selection of goods." Customs agencies will be more efficient and less intrusive thanks to the increased use of container scanners and radiation detection equipment, he said.

The agreement was initialed Nov. 18 by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Rockwell Schnabel and EC Director General for Taxation and Customs Union, Robert Verrue. The agreement now must be adopted formally by the Council of European Union, the organization''s main decision-making body.

The European Commission said the agreement complements U.S. initiatives launched after the September 11 terrorist attacks to integrate security checks into normal customs controls for exported goods. The reciprocal agreement also is designed to ensure the security of containers from all locations that are imported into, transshipped through or transit the European Union and the United States.

"Working with partners such as the U.S to help secure the supply chain is one thing, but we have an even bigger responsibility when it comes to protecting the community and its citizens from terrorist threats and from the increasing traffic in goods dangerous to health and safety," Bolkestein said.

This can best be achieved through cooperation at the European Commission level, he said, noting that the commission proposed a package of measures to improve security and facilitate trade in July.

The U.S-EU agreement will prevent different treatment of member states and trade diversion within Europe, said Bolkestein. "The free movement of goods and avoidance of the risk of distortion are important elements for the functioning of our internal market," he said. "We have to ensure that controls done at the external frontier are carried out in a harmonized way."

That''s especially important as EU expansion into Eastern Europe draws closer. "Customs procedures and controls must be applied at an equal level by the 15 and shortly the 25 customs administrations," he said. EU officials fear introducing different measures or different levels of control would create discrimination between ports and airports.

The European Commission also is concerned that control standards between the two trading powers "are equalized" and that in- creased security does not hinder transatlantic trade. "Facilitation of legitimate trade has to be given the utmost importance in every step we take to improve supply-chain security," he said. "Two sectors with different objectives - supply-chain managers moving goods quickly while trying to keep costs to a minimum and customs officers doing thorough security controls - need to interact. There is no point in having the greatest security controls in the world if they simultaneously kill off trade."

In addition to providing a framework for tighter security measures, the transatlantic pact will establish a working group on the technical work needed. The group will look at a number of areas including the identification of best practices for security controls in international trade and standards for screening high-risk shipments.

Also on the agenda are industry partnerships that develop programs to improve supply-chain security.