Pre-clearance pilots hint at global possibilities
The ongoing synchronization of border management between the United States, Canada and Mexico to make trade and travel more efficient and secure is a good model for developing a global standard for supply chain regulation, Thomas Winkowski, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said Sept. 23 in Washington.
If customs administrations can get on the same page, the complexity of cross-border trade will be reduced and help shippers buy and sell overseas, he said, borrowing a theme from previous speeches this year as the agency builds on the trade modernization initiatives launched under former Commissioner Alan Bersin.
Winkowski, who has held the top job since April, said CBP wants to spread its vision of trade processing driving imports and exports rather than being a drag.
Learning about industry needs and then partnering to design programs that blend security and facilitation is a best practice CBP has developed and wants to share with other countries, he said.
Effective supply chains occur when “business and government participate together, where every piece of the chain is standardized and harmonized, where both security and facilitation are maximized to the fullest. Our exports, for example, are someone else’s imports, so it’s important that our systems are as efficient as possible and as standardized as possible,” Winkowski told the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America’s fall conference.
Talk about using export data from one country to populate another’s import documentation harkens back to efforts a dozen years ago to achieve multi-lateral customs harmonization, which were forgotten after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks made security the primary focus of U.S. and other customs administrations.
The veteran career officer said trusted shipper programs like C-TPAT and Authorized Economic Operator in other countries are a good start, but global standards need to also cover automation, inspection and targeting methods.
Integrating all those processes and information is a key goal behind the “Beyond the Border” initiative, which the United States and Canada have been working to implement the past two years. CBP has a similar border management partnership with Mexico, which eventually could be folded into a hemispheric border management strategy.
When processes are uniform each side can rely on the other to share data and security checks before trucks arrive at the border, helping to minimize traffic jams.
Winkowski said a pilot program for pre-inspecting U.S.-bound trucks prior to crossing the border at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, N.Y., is scheduled to begin in mid-December. It follows a short experiment for pre-inspecting cargo at the Blaine, Wash.-British Columbia port of entry. The Blaine pilot is wrapping up because it simply was a test bed for standard operating procedures that could be employed at full-scale sites and there are no traffic problems to address.
As in Blaine, officers will be stationed at the Canadian checkpoint to do the primary inspection, which enables the agency to give a “go” signal when the driver arrives on the U.S. side or divert it to the cargo lot for a secondary inspection. All traffic is eligible for the pilot, but CBP will provide front-of-the-line privileges to motor carriers in CBP’s Free and Secure Trade program.
The one-year Peace Bridge pilot “presents a whole different dynamic” because trucks that are pre-cleared will mix with trucks that haven’t been checked as well as cars instead of being controlled in a separate lane, Winkowski said after his speech.
CBP will closely study whether the Peace Bridge demonstration has a positive impact on wait times, Ana Hinajosa, the new deputy assistant commissioner for international affairs who previously headed border bi-national border initiatives for CBP, said in a phone interview.
CBP is still finalizing a temporary arrangement that will give officers the authority and protection of law to carry and use firearms in Canada as part of their normal uniform, she said.
Also scheduled to begin soon are pre-screening pilots involving truck shipments of ocean containers arriving at the Port of Montreal and Port Newark, N.J.
They more closely parallel a pilot program begun in October at the Port of Prince Rupert to address supply chain risk prior to arrival at the U.S. border. Under the Integrated Cargo Security Strategy, advance ocean carrier data for a limited amount of cargo destined to the United States by rail from the western Canadian port is reviewed by CBP analysts who can reach out to their Canadian counterparts to run suspicious boxes through non-intrusive inspection machines and share the images through a virtual portal so that cargo can be screened and released before it hits the land border on the Canadian National Railway line. To date, more than 48 dedicated trains have departed Prince Rupert with more than 15,000 pre-screened containers, Winkowski said.
The program is small for ease of management and because it can only cover general cargo that doesn’t require clearances from other U.S. agencies, such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission, officials have said.
The Montreal and Newark pilots also rely on data sharing to help determine risk at the earliest point in the perimeter of the hemisphere, regardless of whether the shipments come from a trusted shipper or not.
Meanwhile, CBP is on the cusp of starting three pre-inspection pilots with Mexico. Two of them will consist of CBP officers stationed in Tijuana and at Foxconn’s electronics plant in San Jerónimo for checking trucks crossing into Otay Mesa, Calif., and Saint Theresa, N.M., respectively, while one involves Mexican Customs officers stationed at the Laredo International Airport in Texas pre-inspecting outbound air cargo, Winkowski said.
Mexico’s version of C-TPAT — Nuevo Esquema de Empresas Certificadas — is now up and running and Winkowski said he hopes to achieve a mutual recognition agreement for the two programs by 2015 or 2016 after Mexican Customs has gained a bit more experience vetting importers and exporters.