U.S. Port Security Hurting Freight Forwarding Firms

Dubai: America's obsession with security, especially a 100 percent screening of containers, is "a bit of a joke", a top official of the global freight association said yesterday.

"If we all have at heart to make the logistic supply chain as safe as possible, we surely cannot cope with some of the latest rules and regulations that some government wants to introduce," Jean-Claude Delen, executive vice-president of the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (Fiata - the French abbreviation of Federation Internationale des Associations de Transitaires et Assimils), told delegates at the Fiata World Congress 2007, which kicked off in Dubai yesterday.

"It is clear that the 100 per cent container screening looks like a joke, and will not achieve the purpose," Delen said.

"Some will argue," he said, "that screening does not mean scanning, but we understand a restrictive interpretation would bring no benefit and cause enormous aggravation.

If on one side the average American citizen might feel safer, because of the security-related announcements, I am sure that well-informed voters, member of the chamber of representatives and government leaders, know pretty well that this is probably only political window dressing, with the main purpose to attract popular votes. But this will certainly not fix the issue."

Complicating

Some of the US container port security initiatives are complicating the global supply chain, increasing costs, officials say.

"The unilateral actions by the US on security have complicated the transport logistics business worldwide," Richard von Bockel, director-general for the European Union's Transport and Energy, said.

Delen said currently the US customs and border control authorities have transferred the US border to several ports outside the US.

"Their customs inspectors have the right to decide which containers need to be scanned before shipping, and this is based upon information, but outgoing containers from the USA are not screened on a mandatory basis, no foreign customs officers are allowed on US soil, and again, based on what I said before, there is no evidence that material coming from outside of the USA on an aircraft or vessel could be more dangerous or suspicious than material leaving the USA," he said.

Addressing the congress, he said, "Ladies and gentlemen, how can we forwarders operate professionally in this disparate environment?"

Responding to the criticism, Richard Di Nucci, acting director for Secure Freight Initiative (SFI) at the US Customs and Border Protection department, said: "Threat changes all the time. Our initiatives allows more comprehensive risk assessment that helps security of shipment."

Quoting a US Transport Security Authority (TSA) report on the thorough inspection of about 285 passenger's terminals and all cargo air carriers, with about 2,800 facilities nation wide, Delen said, "All this and more only proves that no government can think of addressing global security without addressing the problem first and foremost at home.

While the forwarder community recognises the need for enhanced security control, he said, the technological infrastructure currently in place for the scanning of containers does not have the capacity to absorb the introduction of 100 per cent screening without causing trade to come to a halt.

"And is this not just the aim of terrorists, in other words are they not the winners if trade is significantly disrupted? A healthy balance needs to be found between the need to enhance security and trade facilitation," he added.

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