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U.S. Customs Officials Talk Border Security

SAN ANTONIO, Tex. - Three U.S. Customs-led programs introduced in the post 9/11 world were the topic of much discussion at the American Trucking Associations' annual conference.The Trade Act of 2002 (...

SAN ANTONIO, Tex. – Three U.S. Customs-led programs introduced in the post 9/11 world were the topic of much discussion at the American Trucking Associations’ annual conference.

The Trade Act of 2002 (and the resulting advanced electronic pre-notification regs), the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program and the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program were highlighted during a panel discussion entitled Cross-Border Operations in the NAFTA Region.

During his presentation, John Considine, director of commercial processing with the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, admitted his department was fairly chastised for its initial strawman proposal which called for 24-hour advanced electronic pre-notification for all shipments entering the U.S.

He said the prenotification time for truck shipments was never intended to mirror the 24 hours of advanced notice required by marine vessels, but it was interpreted that way.

“As soon as the (Trade Act of 2002) was published, it was assumed it would be the 24-hour timeframe,” explained Considine. “Stupidly, we put out some strawman proposals. People questioned our intelligence and they questioned our sanity because of what we put out.”

Currently, the latest proposal calls for prenotification times of one hour for non-FAST compliant truck shipments and 30 minutes for FAST-approved carriers. The latest proposals had just been turned over to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review.

“Right now, we’re reviewing these final recommendations and OMB then must issue a report to Congress,” said Considine. He expects the regulations to be published in final no sooner than Nov. 15.

After that, there will likely be a lag before the rules take effect.

“We do not anticipate those taking effect immediately,” said Considine. “Usually we have a 90-day period, minimum (before implementation).”

One of the biggest challenges facing the trucking industry will be establishing a standard manifest system, Considine said.

“Customs has had, for many years, a vessel manifest system, an air manifest system and a rail manifest system,” he explained. “We do not have the benefit of an existing manifest system for trucks. We do anticipate having a truck manifest system, but it’s been slow coming.”

Considine predicted it will be the fall of 2004 before the first U.S. port of entry will have the new manifest system in place. In the meantime, he expects the PAPS system to be used at the Canada-U.S. border. The paper-based BRASS (Border Release Advance Screening and Selectivity) system commonly used on the Canada-U.S. border will eventually be obsolete, he said.

“Fifty-five per cent of the trucks from Blaine, Wash, to Calais, Maine, file applications in advance using the BRASS system, but it does not meet the requirements of the Trade Act – it’s not electronic,” said Considine. “It’s paper and pencil.”

Pressed on whether truck backups will result while the prenotification rules are implemented, Considine was adamant that won’t be the case.

“The White House has made it very clear to us that they’re not going to tolerate that,” he said. “We need to simplify matters, not complicate them.”

Robert Perez, director of C-TPAT, also said it is Customs’ goal to improve the flow of good through the implementation of new border security programs – not hinder it.

“We’ve worked very closely with the trade to build every aspect of this program,” Perez said. “The ATA has been incredibly active in helping us build this program.”

Under C-TPAT, carriers are required to increase security through their entire supply chain by assessing risk, screening employees and signing a Memorandum of Understanding with U.S. Customs.

“C-TPAT is about enabling trade, improving supply chain performance and security and should not be perceived as opposing or separate from other supply chain efficiency efforts,” said Perez.

So far, 646 U.S. carriers have signed onto the program, but 2,780 importers have subscribed to it. About 1,000 brokers have also signed on. The program was launched in April, 2002. Perez insists the program has merit and will continue to grow.

“It’s not going to go away, it is absolutely here to stay,” said Perez. “The terrorism threat is as real today as it was on 9/11.”

Going hand-in-hand with C-TPAT, is the FAST program. Scott Williams, coordinator of the FAST program was also there to sing the praises of that border security program.

“We want to secure the infrastructure, secure the people and secure the flow of goods into the U.S.,” said Williams. “We will be utilizing every asset we have to make traffic move quicker, even under higher alert levels.”

Five hundred U.S. carriers had signed up for FAST as of Aug. 2003 while 2,400 importers subscribed. One of the biggest benefits of enrollment will be consistent treatment from one U.S. port of entry to another, said Williams.

He said that within two years every U.S. port of entry will be participating in the FAST program, so drivers and carriers can expect expedited treatment at whichever port they happen to be crossing. The first dedicated FAST lane is slated for the Port Huron/Sarnia border crossing in 2005. Participation in FAST is free for carriers but drivers must pay to become FAST-approved. It’s a US$50 in the states and all processing there takes place in St. Albans, VT to ensure fairness during the application process.

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