The World Customs Organization announced two weeks ago that 12 European Union members and the European Commission had signed on to the "revised" Kyoto convention. That brings the total to 31 of the 40 WCO members needed for the agreement to take effect. The WCO adopted the Kyoto agreement in 1999 to promote trade facilitation through uniform standards for customs inspections and documentation. The U.S. is still prominent among WCO members that have not acceded to Kyoto. That may change before year's end. The State Department has completed its work, and turned the agreement over to Congress. The Senate is expected to vote on the agreement before the 108th Congress adjourns, so the U.S. may present its accession document to the WCO before the end of the year. Once the U.S. is on board, it's likely that Kyoto will win wider acceptance among the WCO's 161 members.

Five executives of Sinotrans Container Lines were reportedly denied visas to visit the U.S. after applying through the U.S. consulate in Shanghai. The incident has been an embarrassment to the Chinese, but does not appear to be part of any wider travel issues. China, in response to the US-VISIT program, has begun similar entry procedures, including fingerprinting, for visitors from the U.S. A State Department spokeswoman said that there has been no blanket ban on Chinese visas, although anyone applying must first be interviewed at a U.S. consulate. For applicants from Shanghai, the waiting period for an interview is about 30 days.

Even though S. 2279 was marked up with a controversial provision establishing fines of $5,000 per bill of lading for cargo left on a pier for more than five days, people familiar with the bill don't believe it will get passed with that idea included. "In its present form, I don't think it's likely. It's really an unworkable provision," said Cindy Thomas, a lobbyist with Kent & O'Connor in Washington, who represents the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America. There are many problems with the idea - which would require stored goods to go into a bonded warehouse after five days instead of the current 15. Among those problems is the fact that any cargo held by Customs and Border Protection for an examination would likely exceed the five-day limit. "It's another cost to the supply chain, and in today's environment of inspections and holds, you are going to have people assessed this penalty when in fact they want the cargo as quickly as they can get it but conditions outside their control are preventing that," said Peter Powell, chairman of the NCBFAA.

Tom Kornegay, executive director of the Port of Houston, has been driving around with a shovel in the trunk of his car for more than a year, ready at a moment's notice to hold a ground-breaking ceremony for his long-awaited Bayport Container and Cruise Terminal. Now his wait is finally over. Work could begin this month on the $1.2 billion terminal that promises to relieve conditions so cramped that overflow business has been spilling to nearby ports such as Freeport, Texas. By the second half of 2006, Houston port officials hope to complete 1,660 feet of Bayport's planned 7,000-foot-long wharf, as well as 65 acres of the 1,043-acre terminal, which is expected to take about 20 years to finish. Houston's Barbour's Cut Container Terminal has been operating beyond capacity for more than two years, handling more than 1 million containers last year. Bayport will double that volume. The port received the final green light on its project last Wednesday when a federal judge threw out a challenge by local residents and environmental groups to the permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Much has been said about major importers taking possession of cargo earlier in their international supply chains, which gives them more cargo to use as leverage in negotiating with ocean carriers and other logistics service providers. But for many companies - a growing number, some believe - the opposite is true. They would prefer to take possession as late as possible to keep the inventory off their books. "I'm seeing a lot of our clients talking about changing their terms of sale from f.o.b. to delivered duty-paid, because it delays when you take title to the goods, and thus the time they become part of your inventory and therefore an asset on your books subject to tax," said Susan Ross, a partner in Rodriguez O'Donnell Ross Fuerst Gonzalez & Williams in Los Angeles.

An effective supply chain remains an elusive goal for many U.S. companies. A survey of U.S. business leaders showed that more than 50 percent said their "corporate strategy and operating plans are not very integrated," with only 2 percent saying they are "very integrated." The survey was conducted by WirthlinWorldwide among executives attending Longitudes 04, a symposium sponsored by Harvard Business School and UPS in New York recently. In describing their supply chains, executives said their biggest problems were accurately forecasting demand, blurred lines of responsibility and spotty information about inventory levels. They said the biggest causes of those problems are internal silos (38 percent), technology (28 percent) and collaboration with suppliers and partners (25 percent). The group, whose companies compete in North America and Western Europe, generally rated their supply chains as "effective." But among those operating in Asia, more than 40 percent said their supply chains were "not very effective."

The Bush administration is committed to resuming negotiations this year to establish a Free Trade Area of the Americas, and is using early success stories of the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement to tout the proposed FTAA's potential. "We believe it will be a model for agreements in the years to come," Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans told the Council of Americas. In the first two months after the U.S.-Chile agreement took effect on Jan. 1, U.S. exports to Chile totaled $475 million, a 22 percent increase from the previous year. Administration officials said big winners were the U.S. heavy-equipment, auto and fertilizer producers. U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick told the council that fertilizer sales to Chile alone jumped from $100,000 to $3.2 million. Evans and Zoellick said the administration intends to pursue additional free-trade agreements in the region until an FTAA becomes reality. Talks are expected to begin this month to establish a free-trade agreement covering Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. Bolivia may join later, Zoellick said.

Customs and Border Protection is undertaking a "container security initiative" for people. Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said the Immigration Security Initiative will station U.S. personnel at foreign airports to help local immigration officials screen passports, and possibly stop suspected terrorists before they board a plane for the U.S. Bonner gave no official start date or location, but said the idea is not new with the U.S. Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Australia already have similar programs under way.