Customs proposes stricter cargo security rules

| 7/24/2003

In a move to keep out terrorists and their weapons, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Department proposed regulations July 22 to order shippers to electronically provide cargo details before arrival in the United States by air, rail or truck.

“Advance cargo information is essential to not only preventing instruments of terrorism from being shipped into this country, but also to speed the flow of legitimate cargo across our borders,” Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in a statement.

Under the rules, cargo transporters would have a specific amount of time to alert Customs about what they are carrying before crossing U.S. borders.

For cargo coming into the country by commercial truck, information would have to be provided 30 minutes before arrival for companies that are part of customs' "Free and Secure Trade" program with Canada, in which participants agree to take certain security-enhancing steps. For others, information on truck cargo would have to be provided an hour before arrival.

Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner said customs authorities currently receive some advance information on cargo carried by airplanes, rail cars and trucks, but the information is provided voluntarily and isn't always complete.

For many shipments, especially on commercial trucks, customs currently receives cargo information on paper, not electronically, and upon arrival in the country.

“The proposed regulations are the result of a careful and considered effort to strike the appropriate balance between security and trade facilitation,” Bonner said.

After a 30-day comment period, a final rule will be submitted Sept. 15 and take effect 15 days later – a timetable set out in the Trade Act of 2002.

Meanwhile, shippers told The Washington Post it was difficult to gauge the impact the regulations on their costs.

"It is too early to say this is heinous, good or excellent," said Peter Powell Sr., chairman of the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America, which has 700 members. "To be sure, business will be done differently."

He doubted, though, that the regulations would force any businesses to close shop.

FedEx Corp. said it would use the comment period to raise its concerns about the proposed rules, the newspaper reported.

"We still remain concerned that these proposed regulations will hurt the U.S. economy by slowing down critical shipments," said spokeswoman Sandra Munoz, who said the company had not yet seen the regulations. "We believe there could still be some reasonable accommodations to make sure goods can move efficiently."