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American Shipper

U.S. ready to commit $20 million to WCO cargo security effort

U.S. ready to commit $20 million to WCO cargo security effort

   The United States is prepared to provide $15 million to $20 million during the next two years to assist developing countries interested in implementing global supply chain security standards endorsed by the World Customs Organization, a top Customs and Border Protection official said.

   It is the first time a U.S. official has publicly indicated a specific figure for helping customs administrations expand their missions and capabilities to participate in international cargo security efforts.

   The WCO membership is expected to approve a framework document laying out common cargo security standards and simplified customs procedures late this week during the organization's annual meeting in Brussels, Belgium.

   The U.S. assistance would be strictly devoted to training customs personnel in other countries in areas such as advance electronic collection of shipping manifests, risk analysis to assess the potential terrorist threat to shipping containers, and use of x-ray, radiation detection and other high-tech screening equipment, said Keith Thomson, assistant commissioner for international affairs, in a meeting with a handful of reporters.

   Thomson estimated there are 20 to 25 countries that will immediately implement the framework agreement and another 50 to 60 countries that endorse the WCO principles but can't commit to implement them right away because they lack the infrastructure, staff, systems and expertise for automating cargo screening and processing. The United States and other countries with modern customs systems are willing to help those countries that show genuine commitment to conduct selective outbound inspections using non-intrusive equipment, share similar cargo-related data and set up programs for companies to secure their internal supply chains.

   Training assistance for modernizing cargo security measures would be funded through the State Department's foreign assistance program, Thomson said. The $15 million to $20 million to help countries build their capacity to scrutinize and process large volumes of cargo would essentially double the amount of money the United States already provides to other governments for customs training. A number of foreign customs authorities receive specialized training from CBP on topics ranging from interdiction, use of contraband detection dogs and container handling to cargo and passenger clearance.

   Thomson emphasized the United States would not pay for countries to acquire computer systems or automated detection systems. Developing countries could look to the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Organization of American States or other institutions for help fund those types of high-ticket items, he said.

   CBP plans to spend close to $400 million in fiscal 2005 just to manage its own cargo security programs and purchase detection equipment.

   Countries 'will lose an economic advantage if they don't participate' in the WCO effort, Thomson said. The WCO does not have any enforcement mechanisms and adoption of the framework is voluntary. But supporters of the framework, such as the United States, Japan, Australia and the European Union, have suggested that cargo from non-participating states will be considered less secure and subject to higher rates of inspection, which could drive shippers to seek out low-risk ports to avoid costly transportation delays.

   The WCO framework is largely based on the cargo security strategy implemented by the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that relies on analyzing data on every inbound shipment; inspecting containers deemed to pose a high risk at the outbound port, if possible, based on agreements with host nations; and providing incentives for the private sector to improve container packing and shipping procedures. The United States has been the chief proponent of internationalizing programs such as the Container Security Initiative, the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism and the 24-hour advance notice rule to improve collaboration among customs agencies, and reduce the complexity of international shipping by enabling importers and exporters to comply with a common set of standards in each country in which they do business.

   Global security would be enhanced because as each country conducts its own targeting it creates a 'series of concentric rings,' or layers of scrutiny, increasing the confidence of customs administrations about inbound shipments that are trans-shipped through intermediate ports, Thomson said.

   The United States considers it 'vital' that the framework be approved by the WCO, he said.