CUSTOMS SEEKS INDUSTRY ADVICE

Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Customs Service is leaning on importers, customs brokers and transportation officials to advise the agency on ways to better secure cargo, as it quickly assembles its antiterrorism strategy.
Customs officials are expected to release new security standards early next year. Their goal, according to a recent agency statement, is to “increase the security of the entire commercial process from manufacture through transportation and importation to ultimate distribution.”
Customs officials are offering few details about what changes may be forthcoming. But they are turning to representatives of the retail and textile and apparel importing companies for help.
“Everybody is trying to figure out how and where we can secure cargo and still facilitate trade without experiencing long delays, which some people are now experiencing,” said Frank Kelly, Liz Claiborne’s vice president for international trade compliance and government affairs and chairman of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. Kelly is also a member of a Customs industry advisory committee weighing in on the security issue.
According to a Customs advisory soliciting industry cooperation, benefits of the yet-to-be announced program would include:
Allowing companies certified as meeting the new security standards to use dedicated cargo-processing lanes.
Implementing new technology to conduct Customs inspections without opening shipping containers.
Providing a Customs contact solely dedicated to working with companies participating in the new security program.
The same advisory calls on importers to begin reviewing their “entire logistics chain” to insure that “sound security practices” are employed and products are shielded from tampering. Importers declining to undertake a security audit and participate in the pending Customs security program will have cargo subjected to increased inspections, the agency said. In addition, nonparticipants will face “increased reviews and audits, added examinations, requests for more information and therefore no guarantee of processing times.”
Claiborne’s Kelly compared the top-to-bottom security reviews to the type of antisweatshop supply-chain audits retailers and apparel importers began undertaking in the early 1990s. He said he wants Customs to be mindful of the differences among importers in how they procure goods and not issue a one-size-fits-all security protocol.
Sam Banks, a former Customs official and now a consultant, likens the agency’s further tightening of security to its push in the 1980s to keep drug smugglers from piggybacking their shipments on legitimate cargo. Banks said it was importers, including textile and apparel concerns, that made a large contribution to shaping the antidrug security protocols.
“One of the things Customs is looking for is more advanced information from companies to do risk assessments,” Banks said. “They probably want the same visibility in the supply chain all companies want.”
Importers in general are wary about sharing too much data with the government because of the cost, as well as concern about sharing proprietary information, Banks said.
Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel at the National Retail Federation, said the pending Customs security standards are “obviously going to have an impact on supply-chain logistics for retailers.”
However, he said, most “large retailers have been determined by Customs to be low risk” for security breaches before Sept. 11, Autor said. “Customs now needs to focus on where the [terrorism] risks are and work with low-risk importers to insure their supply-chain logistics continue to be deemed low risk.”

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