New Cargo Security Laws Will Add Costs to U.S. Supply Chain

Consumers could be hit hard says government

New security laws demanding that all cargo containers bound for the U.S. be scanned for radiation or weapons, could hit consumers hard, a senior customs official said June 24. The measures, which Congress has demanded must enter force in 2012, will oblige countries to scan every one of the estimated 18 million U.S.-bound cargo containers each year before they leave their port of departure.

"We believe strongly that those costs would be added to the supply chain," Jayson Ahern, deputy commissioner at U.S. customs and border protection, said.

More than three quarters of the world's trade, in terms of volume or weight, is moved by sea. Customs experts have calculated that even if enough containers are checked to make the move efficient -- at least 200,000 -- it could add around a billion dollars annually by the time the laws come into effect.

"That's ultimately being passed onto the consumer, and that's unfortunate," Ahern said. "Consumers in our country certainly realize that security comes at some cost but at what point is it really unnecessary? I don't think this is a wise use of U.S. taxpayers' money."

Congress, pushed by the findings of the commission set up to analyze security failings that led to the September 11, 2001 suicide attacks, insists on 100% container scanning. But Ahern said that the current risk management approach -- under which around three percent of containers are examined -- is an efficient method, even though he conceded that 10O% scanning could be used in high-risk zones.

"One hundred percent scanning does not equal 100% security," he said, owing to the limits of technology and its users to detect a suspicious load even when it is checked. A risk management process is also less disruptive of trade, he said, adding to a chorus of criticism that has erupted about the plans.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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