'Poor' doesn't always mean poor security

'Poor' doesn't always mean poor security

Do less-developed countries lack the necessary finances for cargo security? If so, will this eventually exclude them from international trade compared with a new "privileged class" of trading nations?

Those questions surfaced recently while I was on a business trip reviewing a client's supply chain, from factory to import, in preparation for enrollment in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism. Our evaluation included visits to some developing countries. This and previous overseas experience suggests that developing nations are not necessarily weak in cargo security. Consider the examples of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh:

Sri Lanka is a nation well-acquainted with anti-terrorism security. For two decades, the government suffered civil terror at the hands of the Tamil Tigers, a radical separatist group, including a major airport attack with many casualties. Recent events point to a resolution of the strife, but security is still tight.

The Sri Lankan Navy gave us full security clearance to review security procedures in the burgeoning Colombo seaport. Clearance for non-essential visitors is rare, but once the nature of our visit became clear, the rear admiral allowed access in exchange for an understanding of confidentiality.

Without divulging details, I can say that this seaport has anti-terrorism cargo-security procedures that will equal or exceed many "developed nation" seaports even with our mega-million-dollar container X-ray and radiation-detection devices.

The Colombo airport (Bandaranaike) cargo facility is fortified by four Air Force bunkers. Sharpshooters aim rifles while other Air Force officers open and inspect incoming trucks. More armed personnel guard the employee entrance, itself inside double barbed wire. All cargo waits in a designated "cooling off" area to minimize collateral damage in case a bomb does slip through. The cargo then passes through modern X-ray machines before security-cleared personnel stuff or palletize. If only air cargo terminals in the U.S., especially courier facilities, had similar security.

Bangladesh is a poor country with a small but actively militant Muslim party. The week we were there, local headlines depicted a raucous parliamentary session. The moderate, pro-Western majority government, also predominately Muslim, chastised the militant minority party for causing the U.S. "blacklisting" of Bangladeshi travel and immigration, which will hurt the country economically.

The Bangladeshis confidently gave us full access to the "cargo village" at the Dhaka airport and the Chittagong seaport, both under strict military control. We reviewed Bangladeshi production facilities that eagerly cater to global (Western) brands. All but one had acceptable or strong security, including CCTV monitoring, metal detectors, restricted access, background checks, and security procedures indistinguishable from those in "developed" countries.

We found executives at these facilities well-acquainted with topics such as the new 24-hour rule. They conversed easily about developments such as smart seals and containers, and global satellite positioning. We wondered how much more support international trade directors and the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection would get if the average U.S. executive was as well-informed.

In business and private conversations, I encountered no Bangladeshi who did not express shame or regret over the vocal anti-Western militant party in Bangladesh. Average Bangladeshis appear to respect the role of business and international trade in their country's development.

Could a terrorist in these countries sneak a bomb or weapon of mass destruction into a container? The answer is yes, but probably not much more than in developed countries. A suicidal, hyper-religious, militant fanatic, funded by shadowy billionaires, who believes he obtains a throne in heaven next to God for killing civilians, is difficult to stop no matter what the security measures.

Do the developing countries have financial obstacles? Clearly, the answer is again yes. Developed countries should offer financial support, for both humanitarian and self-interested reasons. But we do not conclude that international trade with these countries is inherently dangerous.

Many underdeveloped countries have unique security capabilities, and appear determined to guard their export-based economies more vigilantly in the face of higher security threats. Maybe the developed nations should take note.

Kenneth Carlstedt is chief executive of Carlstedt Trade Logistics & Customs, an international trade and customs consulting firm that is involved in cargo security initiatives. He may be reached at ken@carlstedt-tlc.com.