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Container screening100% scanning of U.S.-bound cargo containers delayed until 2016

Published 1 August 2014

DHS has delayed until 2016 the implementation of key sections of the SAFE Port Act of 2006, which requires that 100 percent of U.S.-bound ocean containers be scanned at the foreign port of origin. U.S. importers welcome the news of the delay, but they urge Congress to eliminate the scanning requirement altogether. Some observers note that the mandate, in any event, fails to make clear how DHS defines the word “scanned.”

DHS has delayed until 2016 the implementation of key sections of the SAFE Port Act of 2006, which requires that 100 percent of U.S.-bound ocean containers be scanned at the foreign port of origin. U.S. importers welcome the news of the delay, but they urge Congress to eliminate the scanning requirement altogether. “We fully support your waiver,” wrote industry groups, including those representing freight forwarders and customs brokers, in their recent letter to DHS chief Jeh Johnson. “However, instead of going through this exercise every two years, we urge you and the Administration to recommend to the Congress that the statutory 100% container scanning requirement be repealed,” they wrote.

The mandate fails to make clear how DHS defines the word “scanned.” Does the department simply want an image of a container before it ships, or must authorities analyze the image and then decide if further inspection is needed? What are the standards for a qualified scan, and who would pay for purchasing, operating, and maintaining the scanning equipment? How will DHS coordinate the scans with foreign port officials? How would the United States react if a foreign government later insisted that containers arriving from the United Sates be scanned before shipping?

“We can’t just do this as a U.S.-only solution. It has to work for the rest of the world, and our trading partners have pointed this out,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy with the National Retail Federation. For one thing, “the technology just is not there,” said Gold. Forbes reports that DHS expects to conclude a review of the scanning technology by the end of 2014; but even with the technology present, the original legislation mandating the scans failed to identify who would cover the cost of the program.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection already implements the Container Security Initiative, enacted after 9/11, to pre-screen containers at point of origin and identify high-risk shipments at fifty-eight ports around the world. Only then does the agency conduct a physical scan or inspection. “That wouldn’t work for 100-percent screening,” said Gold. Importers recommend that DHS should focus on scanning and screening high-risk containers for a more practical and feasible security mandate.

In the letter to Johnson, import industry groups called for a repeal of the mandate and a new focus on “practical supply chain security solutions.” The scanning rule, they said, “would have a significantly negative impact on global commerce and cause significant conflict with the governments of our foreign trading partners, many of which have stated their opposition to the requirement previously.”