WCO offers simple technology to allow customs to make pre-arrival cargo checks.
The World Customs Organization has developed and implemented an inexpensive, basic technology that allows developing country customs administrations to receive and review cargo manifests for security purposes in a way that simplifies compliance for transportation providers.
Many countries lack the information technology expertise or finances to develop a comprehensive cargo manifest risk assessment system of the caliber used by U.S. Customs and agencies in other industrialized nations.
The WCO’s goal is to help customs administrations avoid inspecting low-risk shipments and focus solely on those with the highest threat potential, making better use of their limited resources and speeding the movement of goods across borders.
“There are certainly private sector products out there for customs administrations to use, but most can’t afford them. They are stretched in terms of their resources,” said Stefan Aniszewski, WCO’s program manager for security compliance and enforcement. “We needed to give them something that’s rudimentary, but does the job.”
The WCO’s Cargo Targeting System, or CTS, was first proposed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2011. The Brussels-based organization designed the program in house with CBP assistance, using open source software, and launched it early last year.
“This is an entry-level risk assessment and targeting tool,” CTS project manager Robert White said. “It’s a system that’s been developed by customs officers for customs officers.”
WCO’s CTS enables pre-arrival and pre-departure risk assessment of import, export and transshipment cargo across the full range of customs risks, including revenue loss, drug smuggling, and terrorism. Customs administrations can target shipments according to manually entered or preprogrammed risk indicators, such as origin, commodity types, and watch lists of suspect goods or parties.
Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S. Congress mandated electronic filing of advance manifest data for inbound containers 24 hours prior to arrival in U.S. ports. In general, the document identifies the container number, contents, origin, destination, and pertinent commercial entities, such as the shipper, consignee and notify party. The information is analyzed by CBP anomaly-detection software against a weighted list of potential risks to identify suspicious containers that should be held for further review before entering commerce.
Other developed nations have also implemented advance manifest systems, but many are proprietary.
Manifest-based targeting has proven valuable as a security and enforcement tool, but U.S. and other customs administrations in recent years have augmented it by collecting additional data from importers that many experts say is more reliable and accurate.
Through CTS donations, the WCO is helping to fulfill its twin mission of harmonizing customs standards and assisting countries with modernizing their customs administrations. It represents a first step towards more efficient and effective cargo screening for nations that lag behind in terms of automated risk-based targeting systems.
“Now we want to bring this type of system to the [customs] masses,” White said. “The aim is to get customs analysts and inspectors their search results within five seconds.”
The technology’s simplicity is its beauty, customs and industry officials say. CTS is not a super database housed at WCO headquarters. The program is standardized to look, work and function the same way in every implementing country, but it is installed on local servers and controlled by each customs administration. As a result, the data requirements are the same in each country, which reduces costs for ocean carriers because they don’t have to create different filing processes in each nation where they do business.
And, the data transmission model relies on the most common shipping industry method for providing manifest data to customs authorities—electronic data interchange. Maintaining the status quo, rather than adding IT burdens, is a big selling point to carriers.
Carriers that so far have agreed to transmit manifest information to countries with CTS include Maersk, Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC), CMA CGM, and ZIM. The system can also receive house-level manifests from non-vessel-operating common carriers which consolidate smaller shipments into single containerized units.
CTS implementation was “pretty much effortless” and results in fewer cargo delays because inspections are more selective, MSC Chief Technology Officer Fabio Catassi said at CBP’s Trade Symposium last year.
“We can flow data to any new customs administration from our central manifest system,” he said. And it opens the possibility that some agencies will finally stop requesting submissions of massive paper manifests.
Although a variety of automated risk management systems exist around the world, it’s still positive when new countries that adopt electronic filing formats don’t go off in different directions and instead use a common standard, the MSC official said.
White said CTS eventually will accept other file transmission standards, but even then the data elements will remain the same.
The system is web-based, so that once it’s installed on a server it can be accessed by approved customs officers from anywhere, even via smartphone or tablet.
When a customs administration contacts the WCO about obtaining CTS, the organization sends a small “jump team” of experts to assess the IT infrastructure and the desired capabilities. The process generally takes about a week. Once an agreement is reached, it takes about three months to implement the system, including hardware and software installation, training, and piloting the system to ensure smooth operation.
“We teach them what buttons to push to make the system work and how they can reach their targeting objectives,” White said. The WCO provides any ongoing hardware and software enhancements, and training, to make sure an administration can sustain operations long term.
“Low cost and low overhead is the watchword for us,” he added.
CTS data can also be exported and integrated with other data sets, such as customs declarations, for detailed comparisons and import analysis.
WCO recommends customs administrations that use CTS request cargo manifest information from carriers 72 hours prior to arrival.
So far, five customs administrations have deployed CTS: Jamaica, the Bahamas, Sri Lanka, Moldova and Panama. The U.S. State Department, which is interested in controlling the proliferation of mass destruction weapons and illicit technology transfers, donated the hardware to Jamaica Customs, Davia Blackwood, an agency official, said at the CBP Trade Symposium.
In the past, Jamaican Customs officers had to go to the Port of Kingston, fetch a hard copy of the manifest and return to the office to do manual targeting, which often delayed cargo release.
“In some instances we were targeting items of interest that had already been released because we didn’t have the information ahead of time,” she said.
Kingston is a huge transshipment port where 80 percent of the cargo is simply offloaded and transferred to other ships heading to various continents.
As of a year ago, 50 percent of the cargo passing through Kingston was screened by CTS. Helping Jamaica Customs build its mission capacity benefits countries where cargo is ultimately destined because the agency can notify foreign counterparts of an illicit shipment headed their way, U.S. officials said.
Blackwood said Jamaica’s program is hamstrung by legislation that requires the manifest to be submitted within 24 hours of arrival. Agency officials hope the law will be changed to require transmission sometime before vessel arrival, she said.
A number of other customs authorities have expressed interest in CTS. At the program’s current resource level the WCO can support as many as six CTS deployments a year, Aniszewski said.
The WCO plans to soon expand CTS to air cargo/express and eventually other modes, such as truck, rail and breakbulk/bulk.
“We want to deliver CTS in bite-sized pieces,” White said, adding since so much global commerce today is delivered in ocean containers that that seemed like the best place to start for collecting manifests. “We’re building credibility this way and showing that the system can handle it.”
In March, the WCO plans to meet with representatives of the International Air Transport Association and Global Express Association (GEA) to enlist some of their carrier members to participate in CTS.
“GEA strongly supports the use of risk assessment in customs operations to target high-risk shipments and facilitate the vast bulk of low-risk shipments,” Dietmar Jost, GEA’s advisor on customs and security, told American Shipper. “Many administrations do not have the technical capability to conduct risk assessment, so CTS would provide them with an inexpensive solution.
“The express industry is supportive of risk assessment as a means to generate process improvements and as such will continue to follow this development with interest,” he added.
“Advance data is the key element for early detection of high-risk shipments and this targeting tool is going to enable customs administrations to do that,” Norman Schenk, vice president of global customs policy and public affairs for UPS, said in a phone interview. UPS is a member of the Geneva-based GEA.
Jamaica, once again, is expected to be one of the countries pilot testing the air CTS program and UPS hopes to be selected as a partner, Schenk said.
This article was published in the April 2015 issue of American Shipper.