Representatives from Trade Groups Cite Progress, Cooperation in Meetings with CBP Commissioner
Despite a week when heavy snows and treacherous ice storms swept the nation, members of the trade community traveled from throughout the country to meet with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin in Washington, D.C. on Friday, February 4. The representatives met as part of a series of roundtable discussions to share views on issues affecting trade and the U.S. economy.
Bersin began the day by meeting with association executives from the air cargo industry. It was the second time the group had met with the commissioner since two suspicious packages containing explosive materials had been found on air cargo carriers bound for the U.S. from Yemen last October. During the group's first meeting, held in November, it had been agreed that CBP would work with the industry to identify the best approach for addressing risks at the earliest possible point in the air cargo supply chain and to apply the highest level of security to passenger aircraft.
"I'd like to hear from all of you about how that's going," said Bersin, as he greeted those attending. "Collaboration is an often used term, but sharing perspectives is very important."
"I think we've made a tremendous amount of progress," said Michael Mullen, the Executive Director of the Express Association of America, whose membership is comprised of express courier firms. "The cooperation with the CBP team has been fantastic. There's been a real dedication to finding the right solutions for both sides."
Mullen was referring to an air cargo advance screening pilot program that is currently underway with four of the large express courier companies. "Two of the companies are participating in the pilot project now," he said. "The other two should be up and running in the very near future."
The goal of the program is to obtain advance information about cargo shipments so that CBP and the Transportation Security Administration can identify potential threats at the very earliest point in the supply chain. The pilot program will later be expanded to include air cargo transported on passenger aircraft and then all commercial cargo carriers.
"The world has changed and the way that we do things is obviously going to change," said Mullen. "This potential attack highlighted the need to provide information earlier than in the past, and we have to work out the most efficient way to do that." Mullen also noted that the entire air cargo industry may not be able to provide advance information in exactly the same way. "There should be at least three models, maybe more," he said. "There's one that fits the express business model, one for standard air cargo, and a third one for cargo on passenger planes."
Another participant at the meeting suggested that it would be helpful if CBP could apply the expertise it has acquired from maritime programs. "CBP has a history of working with foreign governments and supply chain networks with its container security initiatives," said Michael White, coordinator of the customs senior advisory group for the International Air Transport Association, which represents 230 global airlines. "You have a network of contacts in place on the maritime side that could be of some assistance to the air side."
Bersin also met with three other organizations - the National Association of Manufacturers, the Association of Floral Importers of Florida, and the American Trucking Association.Some of the issues that were discussed at the meetings include new developments on several CBP initiatives such as the Automated Commercial Environment, Management by Account, and Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism also known as C-TPAT. Additionally, participants discussed the U.S. agricultural inspection process, CBP's communication with other federal government agencies, and a joint announcement made that day by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper of Canada regarding perimeter security and economic competitiveness between the United States and Canada.
This was the third full day of meetings with trade organizations hosted by the commissioner. Typically held on a monthly basis, the meetings are designed to provide an informal setting for agency officials and trade association leaders to discuss issues and share mutual concerns. Two additional meetings with trade executives were scheduled to be held on February 4, but were postponed due to inclement weather.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.