By  on July 20, 2007

WASHINGTON — A Congressional conference committee on Thursday approved a proposal to require 100 percent scanning of U.S.-bound cargo containers at all foreign ports within five years.

The decision was a victory for Democrats and proponents of tougher security measures, who have argued that the estimated 5 percent scanning rate of the almost 12 million cargo containers entering the country is dangerously low and could provide a window of opportunity for terrorists trying to create chaos at U.S. ports.

U.S. apparel importers, who brought $89.2 billion worth of clothing and textiles into the country last year, opposed the measure and were disappointed the committee passed it, arguing that the technology is not yet available and that even the slightest delay in clearing customs in foreign or U.S. ports could interrupt the entire supply chain.

Sixty-five House and Senate lawmakers were appointed to the conference committee to reconcile differences in two national security bills, and the cargo-scanning measure was one of five unresolved issues the committee took up. The proposal would mandate a phased-in application of technology to monitor for radiation and weapons.

"There is very little scanned before it arrives in the U.S.," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D., Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. "My amendment requires 100 percent scanning of all containers coming to the U.S. This proposal is not unrealistic. The technology for scanning exists today."

Thompson said he recognized that it takes time to deploy all of the technology to foreign ports and noted that his amendment has a gradual implementation that ensures that ports will have the time to purchase and install the equipment. He added that the secretary of Homeland Security would have the authority to extend the phase-in of the technology for two years if foreign ports cannot meet the deadline.

The conference report must still be approved by the House and Senate and signed into law by President Bush.

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