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Viewpoint: Running out of patience

PATIENCE is a characteristic truckers involved in picking up marine containers over the last few years have had to master. It's the only way to stay sane through the many delays that seem to routinely...


Lou Smyrlis

Lou Smyrlis


PATIENCE is a characteristic truckers involved in picking up marine containers over the last few years have had to master. It’s the only way to stay sane through the many delays that seem to routinely tie up our stressed port infrastructure.

I’m afraid recent US security legislation calls for even more patience. In case you hadn’t hea rd, the US has a new “scan-all” initiative that decrees that as of July 1, 2012 “a container that was loaded on a vessel in a foreign port shall not enter the United States (either directly or via a foreign port) unless the container was scanned by non-intrusive imaging equipment and radiation-detection equipment at a foreign port before it was loaded on a vessel.” In other words, every container entering a Canadian port that is destined for the US would have to be scanned.

One can only imagine the potential for delay scanning every container entering a port creates.

My question is why? Why does the US need such legislation? Oh I understand the impact 9/11 has had on the American psyche can’t be underestimated but what happened to the initial commitment to ensure that security and efficient flow of trade remain of equal importance?

Has it been highjacked by a fearful public that doesn’t bother to think through all the ramifications of over-zealous security policy and politicians willing to take advantage of the public’s fears to score points, particularly just before an election?

I think so.

The US Democrats may be guilty of this latest attempt to break the necessary balance between trade and security in their desire to position themselves as tougher in dealing with the terrorist threat than the Republicans for the 2008 election, but they’re just following a well-established pattern set down by the Bush administration.

Funny thing about this legislation though is that even the US Department of Homeland Security and Bureau of Customs and Border Protection think it’s a bad idea.

Personally, I would not object to the US trying to dictate supply chain security if there was good reason to believe they really knew what they were talking about. But this legislation is based on the premise that in five years scanning technology will have advanced to the point that scanning all containers would not slow the flow of commerce to a halt for all the wrong reasons. Currently, there is no scanner that can do the job the new law demands.

In other words, work on your patience as ports end up trying to work through all the potential bugs for such a system.

But there is a way out. The deadline for 100% scanning is five years away and there is a provision that allows the secretary of homeland security to extend that deadline if scanning technology at that time doesn’t cut it or if implementation will “significantly impact trade capacity and the flow of cargo.”

Here’s hoping US politicians will show both the wisdom and the “patience” to seriously consider the ramifications of this law and never put it into effect.

– Lou Smyrlis can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6881 or by e-mail at lou@TransportationMedia.ca.


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