Update: U.S.-Canada import security pilot
Last month I described how U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Canada Border Services Agency have partnered on a pilot project to scan cargo at the Port of Prince Rupert for U.S.-bound ocean containers transported by intermodal rail through International Falls, Minn., rather than when they cross the land border.
At CBP’s Trade Symposium Nov. 27-28 outside Washington I was able to get more details from U.S. and Canadian officials, and now can provide a more accurate picture about how the test is being conducted.
The program is part of the Integrated Cargo Security Strategy, an initiative within the Beyond-the-Border Action Plan launched a year ago by the two governments to align security measures on both sides of the border with the goal of reducing redundant procedures and boosting the North American economy through more efficient trade and travel flows. The idea is to resolve security and contraband concerns for international shipments at the continental perimeter — the first point of arrival — so the shared land border becomes more permeable.
CBP essentially is outsourcing exams to its Canadian counterparts to reduce workload and speed the flow of legitimate traffic. It can do this because it is confident Canada Customs will conduct exams to its standards after years of building trust and comparing programs side-by-side, and the availability of new interoperable technology for sharing information.
Normally, CBSA reviews cargo information and examines suspicious shipments for Canadian imports and CBP officers do the same for imports heading south of the border before releasing the train into the United States.
Under the pilot, both agencies receive ocean carrier manifests under their respective 24-hour rules and risk-assess the data with computerized systems. CBSA officers at Prince Rupert will run containers of concern through non-intrusive inspection machines at the request of the U.S. National Targeting Center. The images are uploaded to a shared system where CBP analysts can determine whether they match the description of the contents on the manifest, and if everything checks out, both sides click approval buttons on their screens and the cargo is released.
Helping to speed up communication is an automated system provided by CBP that allows officers to chat back and forth about high-risk containers.
The Prince Rupert pilot essentially is an evolution of the Container Security Initiative, which focused on ocean exports from foreign countries. Canada was one of the first partners in the U.S. security program, but CBP in 2010 pulled its teams out of the three main Canadian ports and is now collaborating in a virtual environment similar to the one used in the Prince Rupert project.
During the prior CSI program, customs officers would coordinate which containers to examine on CBP’s behalf by sending e-mails and filling out forms, which could take days, Eric McCrossin, a manager in CBSA’s Pre-Border Programs Directorate, said.
The pre-screened containers are placed on dedicated trains operated by Canadian National Railway. CN tries to build two to three secure trains per week, Michael Tamilla, senior manager for customs and transborder, said.
The small demonstration program is limited to a small portion of container traffic headed to the United States to keep the volumes manageable and because the agreement doesn’t cover cargo that requires clearance from other agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, or allow shipments that include wood packaging material with the potential for pests. Between the October start and Dec. 10, CBP had screened about 3,000 containers without a second review.
Tamilla said trains in the pilot program are clearing the border in a quarter of the time of regular traffic. Trains typically take two hours or more to get released by CBP. The trains slowly roll through track-side inspection systems that take x-ray/gamma ray images of each railcar, but CBP officers then have to make a determination based on the rail manifest whether any containers need to be pulled off for further examination.
Now trains are being released in 30 minutes or less, provided no new intelligence develops between the time of departure in Prince Rupert and arrival at International Falls, Tamilla said.
“You’re talking 10,000 feet of train, 350 containers, clearing the border in 30 minutes. That’s significant,” he said.
The test is supposed to last one year, followed by a six-month evaluation period during which officials will determine if the concept is feasible nationwide and what, if any, adjustments are necessary.
In 2013, CBP and CBSA plan to launch similar trials for U.S. imports moving from the Port of Montreal across the border via truck as well as a northbound truck test from the Port of Newark, N.J. The agencies have begun to test data exchanges for the Montreal pilot, which will start once CBP is satisfied with the preliminary results from Prince Rupert.
All three programs are testing electronic seals and other devices designed to prevent in-transit tampering during land transport.
Down the road you could also see some type of joint targeting effort by U.S. and Canada Customs on ocean shipments.
Meanwhile, Canada recently launched its version of the U.S. Air Cargo Advanced Screening pilot, under which express and all-cargo carriers and freight forwarders electronically transmit shipment information prior to departure to enable CBP to do automated risk-based targeting before cargo is loaded rather than when the plane is en route, as was the case prior to 2011 when Customs relied on the air manifest after takeoff to make security decisions. Once Canada’s program is established, CBP will likely try to synchronize it with ACAS.
Both sides also were scheduled in December to conclude a feasibility study on dealing with wood packaging materials in a unified way. The concept, borrowed from the Prince Rupert security pilot, is for each country to examine and deal with any pest problems in wood pallets or dunnage at the first port of arrival so they don’t travel across the United States or Canada only to be refused entry and sent back to the seaport.