U.S. Ambassador: 100% Cargo Scanning Could Be Postponed

THE US may be ready to back-pedal on demands that all containers bound for the country are scanned at the port of departure due to the practical difficulties that would arise, diplomatic and other sources have indicated, writes David Osler.

Legislation approved by President Bush earlier this year requires all seaborne containers to be screened for radiation by 2012 in a bid to thwart attempts to smuggle in nuclear weapons or material.

Both the shipping industry and many US trading partners, including the European Union, have come out against the plan, arguing that it could be severely detrimental to trade volumes.

However, there are indications that a rethink could be on the cards next year, which is a presidential election year, following remarks from the US ambassador to the EU, Boyden Gray.

'Hopefully it will never kick in,' Mr Gray said. 'It has large escape hatches to allow whoever is in the White House to delay.'

Mr Gray was speaking at a conference on the outcome of the first Transatlantic Economic Council meeting this month.

The TEC, an initiative from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, aims to reduce non-tariff barriers to transatlantic trade.

Among the discussions was the possibility of mutual recognition of EU and US cargo security systems in 2009, so obviating the need for scanning on the part of EU ports.

Joseph Cox, chief executive of the Chamber of Shipping of America, said that the law 'establishes a 2012 action date although that can be extended at two-year increments if conditions stipulated in the law are met.

'What Mr Gray notes is correct in that there can be delays to implementation based on a number of parameters including the lack of practical scanning solutions.'

Germany's ambassador to the EU, Edmund Duckwitz, also added his voice to those insisting that the legislation should be changed.

'We are not convinced that the new US legislation will increase security,' Mr Duckwitz said.

'One hundred per cent scanning would cause major costs. In the end imports from the US would become more expensive. We need to find a solution that is equally applicable to both sides of the Atlantic.'

One possibility is that EU willingness to review a ban on imports of US chicken sterilised by low-concentration chlorine washes will encourage Washington to reciprocate by softening its stance on box scanning.

The US-based World Shipping Council calculates that around $500bn of commerce could be affected by the requirements each year.

[Lloyds List -- 12/03/07]