What don't you understand?

What don't you understand?

A recent Washington Post article on U.S. Customs' proposed advanced manifest rule left me shaking my head. The article ("Security in Mind, Customs Says Cargo Can Wait," Feb. 12) was reciting the concerns from airfreight carriers, truckers, railroads and trade groups over the additional costs, disruptions and inconveniences that this new requirement would bring upon their businesses. But we've heard all of these objections before. What struck me was how these industries continue to labor the point from the myopic perspective of a pre-9/11 business environment. Folks, the rules have changed. Have you forgotten why Customs is implementing these new requirements, or do you simply not believe it?

This country, for all practical purposes, is at war and has been on a wartime footing since Sept. 11, 2001. Just last month our national security level was elevated to its second-highest alert status - second only to a condition that would mandate the closing of our borders.

So I ask these companies: "What part of this do you still not understand?"

Sure there are likely to be added costs. "Just-in-time" lean manufacturing may need to revert to carrying days of added safety stock/inventory, and these costs will be passed on to consumers. But since added costs always seem to be at the center of these arguments, why not lobby for tax credits or other financial incentives to offset a company's investment in security controls instead of attacking the requirement itself?

One industry that is obviously concerned is the express courier business. But for a terrorist, what better vehicle exists for distributing a biological agent than through that friendly and familiar FedEx box where the receiving mind-set is to rush it through first and ask questions later. If adding a day to an expedited shipment becomes the new business rule, so be it. We will adapt.

At the same time, I would challenge companies to review their own use of these services. You may be surprised to find that you lack any formal procedures or controls for authorizing this service. For international shipments, this can expose a company to regulatory liabilities, as well as generate sizeable expenses - and often for shipments that did not require an expedited service level.

The article mentioned that airfreight carriers also consider the advanced-manifest rule a bad idea in that it may "tip off bad guys that their package is under scrutiny." Well, of course. That is called "deterrence" and is precisely the objective that this initiative is designed to achieve. Terrorists operate very much like water in that they tend to follow a path of least resistance. If your company has implemented enhanced security policies and procedures, such as those recommended under the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) initiative, then you are contributing not only to a barrier that is designed to help thwart a terrorist compromise, but to a program that has shown it can pay additional dividends by finding ways to improve processes, reduce traditional cargo theft or both.

The Post article went on to quote Edward A. Merlis, the Air Transport Association's senior vice president for legislation and international affairs, to say: "You prevent it (a compromised package) from coming in, so they (terrorists) find someone else to bring it in. You would think Customs would want to bring it in to the U.S. and grab it. You set a trap for them and confiscate the goods."

I had to read this several times to ensure I hadn't missed something. How could an organization such as the Air Transport Association be so completely out of step with current events? We're not talking about a sting operation for stolen goods or drug contraband. What we're dealing with is defending our borders from the very real threat of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapon. The absolute last thing Customs wants to do is to bring "it" into our country!

Statements like these continue to astound and disappoint me. How frustrating to see that nearly a year-and-a-half after the initial terrorist attacks against this country, that so many can still demonstrate such a basic lack of understanding, support or sense of urgency. The destruction of the World Trade Center has been likened to the attack on Pearl Harbor, which instantly mobilized this country into a single force and mindset during World War II. It didn't take a second attack. Let's hope the same will hold true today.

Jerry Peck, a trade and customs consultant and licensed customs broker, is founder and principal of Global Trade Management Solutions LLP. He may be reached at (815) 462-1732, or wgpeck@global-trade-ms.com.