Importers upset over C-TPAT standards, CBP prepares new proposal
U.S. officials stress the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism will remain a purely voluntary initiative, but stricter guidelines under development for internal security measures and those of foreign suppliers and logistics providers has caused an uproar among importers who perceive the new minimum standards as requirements rather than guidelines that can be adapted to suit each company.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) received an unfavorable reaction from the import community during a conference call last week after floating an initial draft for new C-TPAT security standards among select importers, according to several industry sources.
During the conference call, C-TPAT director Robert Perez stressed CBP is only seeking to tighten up certain rules for participating in the program, such as requiring importers and their carriers to use high-tech, tamper-evident container door seals, but that there is no intent to require companies to join C-TPAT, according to several sources who listened to the call. According to the draft, the minimum standards are flexible depending on the company’s size and structure and not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Perez was traveling and not available for comment Monday.
Elaine Dezenski, deputy assistant secretary for policy and planning for border and transportation security at the Department of Homeland Security, told American Shipper DHS is deliberating over whether components of the program should become universal standards.
“People were generally not very pleased with the draft that was distributed,” said Kevin Smith, director of customs for General Motors. He said trade community members' primary concerns focus on “the impracticality of what it appears the document is telling importers to do,” and that it changes the basic compact that companies agreed to when signing up to participate in C-TPAT.
Other sources complained the draft should have been more widely circulated to gain feedback from a broader cross segment of companies engaged in international trade.
CBP officials said they did not intend the draft document to be interpreted so literally by the import community, according to industry officials. But a copy of the draft standards obtained by American Shipper makes clear that importers are held responsible for following a laundry list of minimum security practices if they want to remain in C-TPAT, which promises trusted shippers less hassle getting cargo cleared and fewer time consuming cargo inspections.
The draft standards cover requirements for selecting service providers, container security, physical access controls, personnel, document compliance, security training and information technology protections.
“Importers must have written and verifiable processes for the selection of business partners …. Importers must require current and prospective business partners to submit a written report or response to a security questionnaire regarding their current security procedures,” the draft said. Under current practice, many importers submit questionnaire’s to their partners but are not required to do so.
The CBP proposal also says importers “must ensure” suppliers beef up security at the overseas point of production.
“Internal requirements, such as financial soundness, capability of meeting contractual security requirements, and the ability to identify and correct security deficiencies as needed, must be addressed by the importer,” the draft said.
The document also requires importers to make sure procedures are in place to make sure containers are stuffed without tampering, including the use of high-security mechanical seals on all ocean containers, written procedures for verifying seal integrity and reporting seal replacement, container inspections prior to stuffing and secure container storage.
Companies must also have an ID system in place to check employees and visitors entering facilities, and conduct pre-employment verification and background investigations when permissible by law.
Companies are instructed to have procedures in place to accurately process customs documents, including making sure foreign suppliers provide accurate and timely manifest information. Arriving cargo should be reconciled against advance information on the cargo manifest, the document said.
Customs is expected to issue a second draft of the C-TPAT security standards within two weeks and hopes to issue the final standards by early December, sources said.