Protecting and enhancing global commerce

Protecting and enhancing global commerce

I believe that 2005 will be the year of internationalization of a strategy to better secure the intermodal movement of global trade. This global strategy will not only secure trade, the means of its transport and the world's seaports - essential in the age of global terrorism - but it will allow trade to move more efficiently and predictably through the global supply chain.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and continuing through last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection developed and implemented a strategy to better secure the movement of trade between our major trading partners and the U.S. - a strategy designed to detect, prevent and deter the concealment of terrorist weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, inside shipping containers. Yet the U.S. strategy was not just a security strategy. Key features of the U.S. strategy, when fully implemented, actually facilitate the movement of trade to the U.S., moving containers faster, more efficiently and more predictably than before.

The U.S. container-security strategy involves the use of sophisticated detection technology, advance information and automated risk targeting, and binational and private-sector partnerships. The strategy also contemplates the use of "smart boxes," more secure and smarter containers, with stronger and better seals and a device inside containers readable by Customs and Border Protection officers. I predict that all or parts of the smart-box concept will become a reality in 2005.

The U.S. cargo-security strategy rests upon five interrelated and complementary initiatives:

-- First, the 24-Hour Rule, our regulation requiring advance electronic information on all cargo shipped to the U.S. 24 hours before the cargo is loaded at foreign seaports.

-- Second, using the Automated Targeting System at our National Targeting Center, we evaluate for risk every container before it is loaded and shipped to the U.S. All containers deemed a security risk are inspected using large X-ray scanners and radiation-detection equipment on arrival or, in many cases, before departure at ports that are signatories to the Container Security Initiative.

-- Third, through the CSI, we now work in more than 20 countries - already covering 32 of the largest container ports outside the U.S. - the major ports of Europe, Asia, and Africa - to target and inspect high-risk containers before they are loaded on board vessels bound for the U.S. The CSI is the only multinational program in the world today that is protecting global trade lanes and containerized shipping from being exploited by terrorists, and in 2005, we will add 10 ports to substantially complete the CSI security network.

-- Fourth, through the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, we have formed a powerful partnership with more than 7,000 private companies that have joined C-TPAT and that have strengthened the security of their supply chains in accordance with C-TPAT best-security practices - from the point of origin at the loading docks of foreign manufacturers to the ports of the U.S. In exchange, Customs and Border Protection gives the goods of our C-TPAT partners faster processing through U.S. ports.

-- Fifth, use of smart boxes, better sealed and smarter containers that are tamper-evident.

With all five pieces of our strategy in place, Customs and Border Protection should be able to begin this year to offer a "green lane," with no security inspections - and immediate release - on arrival.

As important as it is that trade between the U.S. and our trading partners be protected - as they are by the U.S.-led cargo-security strategy - it is time to expand the core elements of the U.S. strategy globally, to internationalize these standards. That is why I have called on the international customs and trade community to approve and endorse international principles and standards that all customs administrations and all countries will adhere to.

A collective, uniform approach to security and facilitation of global trade is imperative, so that not just the shipping lanes to the U.S. are protected, but shipping lanes and their means of transport are better secured on a global scale, yet in a way that actually facilitates the movement of legitimate trade. Not only will the global economy be protected, but it will be enhanced. Getting this done, however, will be a challenge for all of us in 2005.

Robert C. Bonner is commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He can be contacted at (202) 344-1780.