European Affairs

That is why it is impossible to overestimate the importance of the agreement between the European Union and the United States regarding container security and more broadly improving the security of global trade that was signed in Washington in April, marking a milestone in the Transatlantic partnership against terrorism.

The agreement will not only vastly improve the security of trade between the European Union and the United States, which is the lifeblood of our own and the global economies, it will also improve our overall security. It reflects recognition by the United States and Europe that they must work together to improve the security of cargo shipments or cargo containers that move to and through our seaports.

Protecting the flow of trade between the world's two largest trading blocs is more important than ever. For while we must take action to incapacitate terrorist organizations ­ and deal with those who sponsor and support them ­ and while we must dampen the hatred that fuels radical Islamic terrorism, we must all protect and defend our people, our trading systems, and our economies.

The Container Security Initiative (CSI) is a centerpiece of the U.S. effort to secure the global trading system. Its origins can be traced to two lessons we learned in the days following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as we watched movement across our borders, the airline industry, and international trade grind to a virtual halt. The first lesson was that we must identify threats as early as possible, before they pose a risk to our security or to global trade; the second was that we must have a security system in place that allows commerce to continue to move reliably and safely in the event of future terrorist attacks.

CSI is as elegantly simple and revolutionary as the idea of the standardized cargo container itself. It consists of four core elements:

First, through the use of advance information, intelligence and risk-targeting principles, CSI teams work with their counterparts in other countries to identify containers that pose a potential risk of terrorism. These containers include those that might conceal terrorist weapons, or even terrorists themselves.

The advance information comes from the so-called 24-hour rule, which requires maritime carriers to provide the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with detailed descriptions of the contents of seaborne containers bound for the United States 24 hours before loading. CBP officers analyze this information to identify containers that pose a potential terrorist threat.

Second, CSI ensures that these high risk containers are pre-screened for security purposes before being issued with bills of lading and loaded onto oceangoing container ships.

Third, pre-screening uses non-intrusive inspection technology, including large-scale X-ray type imaging machines and radiation detection devices. The inspections are conducted quickly, without impeding the flow of legitimate cargo. Indeed, one of the objectives of CSI is to take advantage of the fact that containers can be examined before loading without delaying the shipping cycle.

Fourth, sealing devices are used to indicate that containers previously examined at CSI ports have not been tampered with en route.

We launched CSI in January, 2002. As a result of extraordinary international cooperation, including support from the G-8 as well as from the World Customs Organization. By negotiating with our partners in foreign governments and business, we have made CSI a reality, and a benefit to the United States and its trading partners in just two years. The system is fully reciprocal.We already have Canadian and Japanese inspectors working in the United States, and we would welcome inspectors from Europe as well.

Indeed, a number of European countries have played an important role in establishing the system. The Netherlands, Belgium, and France were the first countries to agree to become partners in CSI, and if it had not been for their strong and early support, the initiative would not be as successful as it is today.

Our initial goal was to implement CSI at 20 of the world's largest seaports ­ those that ship the largest volumes of containerized cargo directly to the United States. Today, 19 of those 20 ports have agreed to participate in CSI, and the system is operational at 18 international seaports. Half of these operational ports are in Europe, and we would like to extend the system to additional ports in Europe, perhaps ten more by the end of this year.We are very pleased the European Union has pledged to support the expansion of CSI throughout Europe. Indeed, this is one of the main goals of the recently signed agreement.

The agreement complements separate CSI agreements with EU member states and places CSI on a secure and stable footing in Europe for the months and years to come. It paves the way for expanding CSI throughout Europe as quickly as possible, and improving the operations and effectiveness of the system.

Through working groups comprised of U.S., European Commission, and member state customs officials, we will push the expansion of CSI, exchange best practices and lessons learned to improve the system and develop and enhance similar European programs. In short, we will work together to ensure that the United States and Europe have systems to identify and inspect high-risk cargo that reflect all our combined expertise on collecting and analyzing information and inspecting shipments for security purposes.

Another important initiative, which will also be enhanced and refined in cooperation with the Commission and the EU member states, is the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT), a voluntary partnership with the private sector to improve the security of international supply chains from beginning to end. Through C-TPAT, participants develop and maintain secure supply chains from the manufacturer's loading dock to the border or arrival port. CBP, in return, offers C-TPAT shipments expedited processing and passage across the border through a "green" or fast lane.

In order to join C-TPAT, a company must conduct a self-assessment of its current supply chain security procedures using C-TPAT security guidelines developed in partnership with logistics and security experts from the trade. A participant must also commit to increasing its supply chain security by addressing any weaknesses that exist. Perhaps most importantly, participants must make a commitment to work with their business partners and vendors throughout their supply chains to ensure that those businesses also increase their supply chain security. In this way, C-TPAT is able to increase security of shipments from the foreign loading dock to the port of arrival.

C-TPAT is comprised of importers, carriers, brokers, freight forwarders, consolidators, manufacturers and exporters ­ indeed all links in the supply chain. Our goal is to extend C-TPAT participation to the entire international supply chain.

Our work with the European Commission and the EU member states is showing great promise in this field. There are programs under development or in place in Europe, such as Sweden's innovative StairSec program, that mirror the goals and objectives of C-TPAT. In one working group we shall look closely at private sector partnerships to facilitate secure trade, striving to improve the security of the supply chain through best practices implemented by businesses and verified by governments.We will identify best practices and lessons learned from our respective efforts to develop such programs, and we will seek ways to integrate our efforts.

Nevertheless, although the United States and Europe have made great strides, there is still much work to be done in our efforts to prevent terrorist attacks and secure global trade.We must support one another, and learn from one another, as we continue this work. Together, we can better secure the United States and Europe against the threats posed by terrorists operating around the globe, and we can reduce the vulnerabilities of the global trading system. I am confident that, at the same time, we shall make the trading system more efficient.

Robert C. Bonner is the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the Department of Homeland Security. He is the first person to serve in this position, having been appointed by President George W. Bush on March 1, 2003. He was appointed Commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service on June 24, 2001. He was previously a partner in the Los Angeles office of Gibson, Dunner & Crutcher, where he specialized in crime, justice, drugs and global trade issues. He has also served as Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (1990-1993), as U.S. District Judge for the Central District of California (1989-1990), and as U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California (1984-1989).

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number V, Issue number II in the Spring of 2004.