EUROPEAN COMMISSION QUESTIONS CUSTOMS’ CSI BILATERAL AGREEMENTS
The European Commission has questioned the form and contents of the recent bilateral agreements, on the U.S.-backed Container Security Initiative, made between the U.S. Customs Service and the ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp and Le Havre.
Three commissioners of the Brussels agency have expressed concerns about the Container Security Initiative and urged changes in a joint letter: Loyola de Palacio, vice-president in charge of transport and energy, Frits Bolkestein, internal market, taxation and Customs union commissioner, and Pascal Lamy, trade commissioner.
Although the EC officials support the aim of the maritime security initiative, they said that “the practical consequences of the CSI in the short term might be quite serious.”
In a joint communication, they said that the U.S. initiative is addressing in the first place the so-called “mega-ports” with huge container traffic to the U.S.
This approach “implies the risk of serious distortions between ports and in the transport sector,” they warned. The EC officials fear that ships and container traffic coming from participating CSI ports will be given preferential treatment over other European ports.
This would create a “massive incentive” for the shipping industry to use those ports.
“This could have a significant impact on trade patterns and disrupt the overall transport system by concentrating traffic flows in already heavily congested parts of Europe,” the European commissioners noted.
In the long term, distortions may no longer exist if the CSI program is extended to all ports, they added, but the immediate effect would prevail.
The three EC commissioners also warned that the introduction of a new level of control and the need to collect export data at an early stage is not easy, and suggested that they may run counter to trade facilitation.
They also called for reciprocity to ensure container traffic from the U.S. to Europe is also secure.
The EC officials said that European countries and the U.S. are working within the G8 group on container security measures.
The EC commissioners put forward a recommendation “to develop an arrangement with the U.S.A. that offers an equal treatment for all containers shipped from (the) European Union to the U.S. without distinguishing originating ports or member states.”
They also called for talks with individual European countries to convince them “to refrain from further developing bilateral contacts that put at risk the success of important common policies such as trade, transport and customs policy.”
Gilles Gantelet, spokesman for the EC transport and energy directorate, said that the EC document from the commissioners “does not have any legal force: it is just a presentation of the situation and the differents problems it raises.”
The EC officials said that they want to gather information to check if the recent bilateral agreements with the U.S. are compatible with European Community law.