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Marine Log

June 11, 2008

Study points out problems with scan-every-box law

U.S. legislation on container scanning would mean "pivotal and costly changes" for global trade, shipping, port and Customs administrations.

Those are among the findings of a study conducted by the University of Le Havre and released by the World Customs Organization (WCO).

The study looks at legislation passed in 2007, which mandates that all containers destined for the U.S. be scanned prior to loading at the port of origin by July 1, 2012 (the US legislation requires scanning for content as well as radioactive material).

The main conclusions of the study point out the weaknesses as well as challenges and opportunities the implementation of this legislation stands to bring to more than 600 ports and to the global logistics chain.

"We commissioned an independent academic research body to undertake this study as a first step in determining how best to move forward in an effective and mutually beneficial manner in view of the new U.S. legislation and its resulting cost, capacity, and logistics concerns," said Mr. Michel Danet, WCO Secretary General.

"There is no question that we are all determined to find the best practical solution; one that will provide the US with the added security it seeks to prevent any act of terrorism from being carried out using international shipping channels, but which will not burden global trade unnecessarily," stressed Mr. Danet.

"Sight should also not be lost of the fact that in response to increased trade security concerns following the 9/11 terror incidents in the U.S., WCO Members have been steadily implementing the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards to secure and facilitate global trade since its adoption in 2005, and in which container scanning is only one element of a more comprehensive intelligence process based on risk management and the sharing of information," Mr. Danet added.

"Implementation of the SAFE Framework is supported by a sustainable Customs capacity building programme and valuable advice from the WCO's Private Sector Consultative Group," concluded Mr. Danet .

The research indicates that port authorities and customs services have voiced two main concerns:

1. the technical and organizational difficulties of bringing 100% scanning of U.S.-bound exports into operation by 2012;

2. the issue of reciprocity of this procedure for containerized traffic leaving the U.S. for main ports in other countries.

While scanning technology is expected to be up to the challenge by 2012, and some of the larger and more advanced ports could be ready for implementation, there are many unknown factors that may hinder the application or effectiveness of this legislation. The cost of infrastructure and equipment, port risk management, hiring and training staff, the ability to monitor, interpret and asses every image in a timely manner, are some the areas identified by the study as problematic. Due to these complex factors the effectiveness of applying this blanket approach to ensure the security of shipments is questionable, the study shows.

The WCO says it is releasing the study publicly to allow its results to be debated by customs representatives, port operators, manufacturers of scanning technology, and service providers. In the months ahead, the work of the WCO will focus on engaging its Members and other Customs and trade stakeholders in order to explore various options that will enable the WCO to offer the U.S. administration positive counter-proposals that will meet its needs and result in the 100% scanning legislation being repealed.

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