January 23, 2003

EC proposals for U.S.-EU cooperation transportation security
The European Commission has opposed agreements between inividual European Union member countries and the U.S. on cutsoms cooperation and container inspection. Now it has produced its proposal for these to be replaced with an agreement between the U.S. and the EU. What follows is a statement issued in Brussels today.

Customs: Commission proposes to negotiate EU/US co-operation arrangements for transport security

The European Commission has proposed to the EU's Council of Ministers a mandate to negotiate with the United States on behalf of the EU the establishment of mutually acceptable customs controls of goods, particularly of goods transported in containers, so as to address the threat of terrorist attacks. The proposal complements US initiatives launched after the attacks of 11th September 2001 and its aim is to co-operate with the US to integrate security checks in normal customs controls before goods leave a country. The Commission fully shares the concerns of the United States about improving security and considers that the most effective means to meet these concerns is by cooperation at the EU level with the US. This Community-level approach also avoids differential treatment of Member States and trade diversion within the EU. Another objective of the negotiations would be to ensure that legitimate transatlantic trade is not hindered by the increased security arrangements and that controls standards are equalised for US and EU operators. Negotiations with EU Member States on the mandate will begin at the latest in early February.

"This proposal demonstrates the commitment of the European Commission to maximising security and to countering terrorist threats," said Frits Bolkestein, European Commissioner for Customs. "The Commission fully shares the United States' concerns and wants to integrate the United States' preliminary unilateral measures into a set of commonly agreed actions which balance security needs with trade facilitation".

The proposal

Under the proposal, the Council would give the Commission a mandate to negotiate an amendment to the 1997 EU/US customs co-operation agreement so as ensure a more co-ordinated approach to controls on the movement of goods. Areas where co-ordination could be established would include: * the definition of key information for the identification of high-risk consignments and on how to collect and exchange it between competent authorities so as to ensure the effective application of risk management techniques * the establishment of common definitions for controls and agreement on how these definitions could be used to identify high-risk movement of goods * the co-ordination of positions to be taken on these issues in multilateral discussions * The development of a common approach to the carrying out of practical actions in this domain in conformity with international commitments.

The objective would be to strengthen security while facilitating legitimate trade in conformity with international commitments and the principle of reciprocity. Another objective would be to equalise levels and standards of control for EU and US operators.

The amendment to the existing agreement should supersede the bilateral declarations of principle and bilateral agreements concluded between EU Member States and the US insofar as those arrangements address matters which are the exclusive competence of the EU.

Container Security Initiative

The Container Security Initiative (CSI) was launched by US Customs after the terrorist attacks of 11th September 2001. A major concern of the US is the possibility of containers being used for terrorist attacks, be it through weapons of mass destruction directed to ports of the United States or to the maritime transport chain itself. In a first step, the US has invited about twenty 'megaports' world-wide to join this initiative.

The European Commission fully shares the US objective of improving maritime transport security and protecting trade against any threat of a terrorist attack. However, it is concerned about the potential consequences of the US approach of selecting, at least initially, only a few large European ports to join the CSI. So far the US Customs Administration has signed declarations of principle with seven Member States (the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom) which allows the stationing of US customs officials in a number of ports with major container traffic to the United States. The Commission feels that security concerns would be addressed in a more effective manner by a pan-European measure. Furthermore, the Commission is of the view that the bilateral approach adopted by the US thus far is likely to cause diversion of trade and create competitive distortions between EU ports

The European Commission has held discussion with the US Administration (see MEMO/02/220) on a pan-European measure, during which the US seemed to agree to the principle of EU-wide co-operation with the US to ensure both better security and facilitation of legitimate trade. However, US Customs Commissioner, Robert Bonner, has suggested recently that the United States may proceed unilaterally on transport security initiatives.

24-hour rule

At the end of August 2002, the US Customs Service announced a proposal for an amendment to US Customs regulations which would require carriers to provide US Customs with cargo manifest information 24 hours before the related cargo is loaded on board a vessel, destined for the United States, at the foreign port. The US has recently announced its intention to enforce this rule from 2 February on a unilateral basis. The Commission has already pointed out its serious concerns over the extra-territorial nature of this proposal and the difficulties it will create for the Community and international trade in general. Enforcement of the proposal in the manner now proposed is likely to cause serious disruption to EU transport operations without necessarily giving the US the security assurances in seeks. The proposal to extend advance notice requirements to air traffic could have an even more disturbing effect on the EU and US economies

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