Importers throw support behind new C-TPAT criteria
Representatives for major U.S. importers said Thursday they strongly stand behind new, tougher baseline security standards for the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program as a way to protect global supply chains and reduce inspection bottlenecks that can delay delivery of their goods.
The sign of support came from the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), the American Association of Exporters and Importers (AAEI), and IBM in a meeting with reporters in the office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert Bonner. It was the first time in recent memory that Bonner has included members of the private sector in any group interview session he grants the press, and appeared designed to calm jittery shippers worried about the cost and difficulty of meeting the higher level of C-TPAT security criteria.
CBP raised the bar on C-TPAT importer participation last month, moving from the prior policy of enlisting participation based on CBP recommended practices and guidelines to a common set of minimum expectations for all importers.
C-TPAT is a voluntary program under which importers, carriers and suppliers commit to tightening their internal security controls to prevent terrorists from using containers to smuggle themselves or weapons into the United States in exchange for fewer inspections and other potential benefits.
The new criteria require importers to verify that overseas suppliers and transportation providers have appropriate security procedures in place in a wide range of areas such as container packing and inspection, access controls for their facilities, employee background checks, information security and sound documentation procedures, training, physical barriers and electronic alarm and surveillance systems.
“We appreciate the flexibility the new approach allows. It’s not one size fits all,” but is based on risk and allows a company to tailor security to its business model, said Jonathan Gold, RILA’s vice president for global supply chain policy.
Hall Northcott, president of AAEI, said CBP has resolved his group’s initial concerns by consulting with a broad cross-section of C-TPAT members to provide input on the new criteria, maintaining the program’s voluntary nature and continuing to work to provide more trade facilitation benefits.
The new security regime represents a “massive change” for importers beyond simply securing cargo to adjusting their business practices for their total operations, Northcott said.
CBP will soon begin work on upgrading the criteria for carriers and C-TPAT participants.
Bonner said 9,083 companies have signed up for C-TPAT so far, including 5,020 importers, 2,208 carriers from all modes, 1,412 brokers, 393 Mexican manufacturers and a handful of port authorities and marine terminals.
Almost 600 companies have been validated by CBP supply chain officers through on-site visits at their overseas facilities and another 400 validations are in progress.
Those figures are up from a month ago, when CBP had enrolled 8,800 companies and validated 455 companies as having followed through on their security commitments. CBP has reviewed the security profiles and certified about half of the companies that have signed up for C-TPAT.
CBP has 69 supply chain specialists in place, up from 40 last year, and intends to build up to 157 officers with the funding that is in place, said Ed Moriarty, a C-TPAT program manager.
Bonner said he is eager to bring in more foreign manufacturers to the program but that it must be done gradually so as not to overwhelm the program’s administrative capabilities to review and vet that companies are meeting their security criteria.
“We don’t want to crush the program” by opening it up to everyone at once, he said.
“We are going to make this available to companies in Canada on a selective basis, and in other parts of the world, where it makes sense from a security point of view,” Bonner said, echoing comments he made to reporters at the Customs Trade Symposium in January. CBP will approach large companies or trade associations that have large trade volumes with the United States, he added.
The importers in attendance said an effort underway through the World Customs Organization to develop a set of global security and trade facilitation standards by June could play a large role in expanding the universe of companies that become trusted shippers eligible for faster clearance. Then other countries could institute programs similar to C-TPAT based on a WCO framework.
“Our hope is that as part of C-TPAT if a foreign manufacturer is qualified and validated under a foreign customs program they would be recognized by the United States,” Gold said.
The importers encouraged other countries and companies to support a common international approach to security standards so as not to suffocate trade with a raft of different requirements in each country.
“It would be very costly to both governments and to industry if we aren’t able to do this successfully and have some commonality of requirements,” said Kimberly Marsho, a government affairs managers for IBM.
“If IBM has to implement different requirements in each country were we do business and if the governments of those countries have to go through redundant, duplicative reviews of our global security program it will probably delay implementation of these important security measures and impede facilitation,” she said.
Gold said the WCO process is very important. “This cannot just be a U.S. approach.”
Bonner dismissed the possibility that C-TPAT would become a mandatory program because that would mean the end of the program.
He said a purely regulatory regime would create a straightjacket for companies to follow that would not lead to further security improvements down the road.
Marsho said the voluntary nature of the program was critical to fostering an open dialogue and collaborative approach between industry and the government.
“I think that’s really critical for this issue because the threat is continuing to evolve and change, and its only through rapid sharing of information and the ability of the requirements to change as the threat changes are we going to be able to address the problem,” she said.