The US Customs and Border Protection agency is trying to shore up buy-in for its cargo security programme with a boost of its Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) programme.
The government agency has unveiled a new programme that combines elements of C-TPAT with its Importer Self Assessment (ISA) scheme. The new “Trusted Trader” concept is meant to bring additional benefits to those who register.
“Trusted Trader’’ has been likened to “C-TPAT on steroids”. Brandon Fried, executive director of the US Airforwarders Association, finds the analogy fitting. “It does combine ISA with C-TPAT to give you a hyper C-TPAT programme,” he remarked.
Some 10,700 companies have signed up for C-TPAT, including about 4,300 importers and 3,100 carriers, among them railroads, trucking companies and container lines. Recently new membership has stagnated amid criticism questioning the benefits of the programme. Some shippers have publicly stated that they have not experienced any tangible benefits from having embraced C-TPAT.
The green lanes at US-Canada border crossings that would fast-track truckers with C-TPAT certification have never materialised. instead, truckers have found themselves stuck in long lines of vehicles, some of which had C-TPAT certification and others did not.
Fried pointed out that the programme was conceived in the early aftermath of the 9-11 attacks in response to air freight being shut down altogether. At the time, C-TPAT membership was seen as an insurance that in the event of a similar horrific attack, their cargo would still be allowed to flow with minimum interference, he said.
Members of the Air-forwarders Association who are C-TPAT certified have told him they did so primarily at the request of their customers.
Still, the absence of clear benefits has riled forwarders, shippers and carriers and made them reluctant to embrace similar initiatives. CBP obviously saw a need for a broader programme that would supercede C-TPAT.
One advantage for members of the “Trusted Trader’’ scheme will be reduced inspections from several independent agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration or the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Among other things, the ISA element should help reduce delays in the event of a spot check. An importer who has one of his containers inspected will not automatically see his other containers subjected to similar treatment, so only one ULD will be delayed.
One potential advantage Fried can think of is in the international arena. “I think the aim is to get harmonised with other national regimes, for example the ‘authorised economic operator’ in Europe,” he reflected. “If you get less restrictive treatment overseas with harmonisation, that would be a considerable benefit.”
Still, the benefits of joining the programme are not very clear, he criticised. By the same token, neither ISA nor C-TPAT have shown clear advantages for registrants. The CBP could do a better job promoting its programmes and giving the industry clear benefits, he thinks.
Fried reckons that it will be chiefly large importers who will go for “Trusted Trader’’ registration. “If you are a large importer or exporter, you need to look at this,” he said. For small and mid-sized companies it is questionable at this point if the benefits of joining would make up for the additional time and investment required. The CBP has not given any indication of the cost involved, but it is not likely to be cheap, according to Fried.
“You have to secure your supply chain, and then you have to go through the audit process,” he pointed out. At a time of thin margins, when operators question every penny of expenditure, benefits as fuzzy as what the CBP currently proffers are unlikely to generate a stampede of interested companies to sign up.
Most forwarders, especially mid and small-sized ones, are unlikely to go for “Trusted Trader’’ registration. “I really doubt there will be a rush to upgrade to ‘Trusted Trader’,” said Fried