American Shipper

CPSC, CBP tighten import safety collaboration

CPSC, CBP tighten import safety collaboration

   Coordinated targeting of unsafe imports went into full swing Monday with the signing of an agreement giving Consumer Product Safety Commission personnel full access to U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Automated Commercial System.

   The memorandum of understanding gives CPSC the ability to conduct import risk safety assessments and select high-risk shipments for inspections with the help of computer program that sifts through data by comparing it to predetermined safety criteria. Last October, CBP stood up the Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center (CTAC) for Import Safety to centralize federal monitoring and analysis of imports for potential safety violations. The facility utilizes similar risk management techniques perfected by CBP at its national targeting centers for cargo and passengers.

   About 30 analysts from various agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service, eventually are expected to operate from the center. A CPSC analyst has been stationed at the CTAC for several months, but CBP was restricted from sharing all information relevant to product safety until protocols could be worked out on how to handle security-related data. The agreement also clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the two agencies.

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   'Sharing information allows us to target and stop suspect shipments early in the supply chain,' CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum said at a signing ceremony at CBP headquarters in Washington.

   Most inspections take place at U.S. ports, but Tenenbaum said the ultimate goal is to work with other governments and the private sector to build safe products from the outset, and identify dangerous and defective goods during the manufacturing process or at the port of origin.

   The CPSC has stationed inspectors at the nation's 10 largest ports during the past couple of years.

   The agreement 'memorializes the relationship that our agencies have procreated to plus up our import safety capacity and apply risk segmentation and coordinated communication to keep dangerous goods out of the country,' CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin, said in a brief interview following the ceremony. The reciprocal result is that compliant cargo has less chance of being detained for inspection, he added.

   The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 strengthened the commission's authority over import product safety standards, recalls, reporting and administrative penalties. Officials say having direct access to CBP's electronic records helps identify potential unsafe imports before they enter the commercial stream. The commission has traditionally relied on CBP to point up potentially harmful product imports, but under the latest arrangement is better positioned to assist CBP make determinations. One of the intended benefits of co-locating import safety experts at ports and the CTAC is to streamline the review process of samples and documentation, resulting in quicker decisions on whether to seize, destroy, re-export or release cargo held for examination.

   Automated searches for red flags about unsafe imports will rely on data supplied by shippers in different customs entry forms at time of arrival and from advance manifests filed by ocean, rail, air and truck carriers.

   The CPSC soon plans to assign another import safety specialist to the CTAC, Daniel Baldwin, assistant commissioner at Customs for international trade, told American Shipper.

   CBP and the CPSC have worked closely together since 2007 when a spate of incidents involving unsafe food, toys and other products from China and elsewhere made headlines.

   The two agencies are partnering as well on a trial expansion of the Importer Self-Assessment program for import safety compliance. JCPenney and Hasbro are participating in the program to demonstrate the ability of companies with strong internal controls to prevent violations and notify authorities when a breakdown occurs. ' Eric Kulisch