By  on December 15, 2009

WASHINGTON — Ensuring initiatives designed to make U.S. ports more secure don’t interrupt the flow of trade is becoming increasingly challenging and will require more outreach to industry and government partners, according to officials at the 10th annual U.S. Customs & Border Protection Trade Symposium.

During last week’s conference here, Customs & Border Protection noted it was facing rapidly approaching deadlines on a number of Congressional mandates. Enforcement of the importer security filing requirement, the so-called 10+2 rule, is scheduled to begin next month, and the 100 percent-container-scanning mandate has a July 2012 deadline. Additionally, the agency is waiting for its new commissioner to be confirmed, and it has not been immune to the global economic downturn that has severely constricted global trade and eroded the fees that generate some of Customs’ revenue.

In September, President Obama nominated Alan Bersin, former assistant secretary for international affairs and special representative for border affairs with Homeland Security, to be Customs commissioner. His confirmation is still pending. Bersin has a background in border security, but he is a largely unknown entity in the trade community. The acting commissioner, Jayson Ahern, is retiring at the end of the year.

Customs announced a new import safety initiative on Dec. 8 designed to streamline efforts to balance trade and security concerns. The Import Safety Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center will pull staff from a number of agencies to partner with Customs and work jointly to improve import safety efforts. Partners include Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Consumer Protection Safety Commission, the Food and Drug Administration and the Food Safety Inspection Service.

“The new targeting center will enhance the inspection of goods entering our country by centralizing and strengthening federal efforts to protect U.S. consumers,” said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

The new center is not the first collaborative venture established by Customs to address import safety. J.C. Penney Co. Inc. was an early participant in a pilot administered by Customs called the Importer Self Assessment program. The ISA program allows importers to certify their internal trade compliance processes with Customs through a lengthy application process. If accepted, the company is fast tracked through Customs procedures and subject to fewer inspections. Penney’s also is involved in an ISA program for product safety compliance.

“As a retailer, we try not to hold too much inventory,” said Sandra Fallgatter, manager of private brand compliance and vice president of private brands for Penney’s, speaking on a panel at the conference. “Clearing quickly is important to us.” The partnership programs that Customs administers provide the business certainty companies are looking for, Fallgatter added.

Apparel companies and information technology firms have the highest rates of utilization of the pilot program for secure shippers, said Richard Wallio, branch chief of partnership programs for the Office of International Trade at Customs.

“Customs is committed to reaching out,” said Julia Hughes, senior vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel.

Fully implementing the 10+2 requirements will be one of the first issues Customs will need to attend to in the new year. The rule requires additional information about goods from shippers. It was effective last year, but the agency delayed enforcement for a year. Customs has said they will use a “common sense” approach to enforcement. Ahern said the rule will be fully effective on Jan. 26, but the least punitive measures necessary will be used to promote compliance.

Ahern also reiterated last week the agency would not be able to meet the July 2012 deadline for 100 percent scanning of all U.S.-bound cargo containers at foreign ports, a controversial mandate that generated concern in the industry.

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