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December 14, 2017
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U.S. Customs plans to update CTPAT best practices, minimum-security requirements, and compliance certification

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The director of the cargo security program outlined current and planned updates at the Coalition of New England Companies for Trade's annual cargo symposium.

The Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, better known as CTPAT, has a new logo, a red, white, and blue globe made of interlocking puzzle pieces. It has new spelling, with no hyphen in its name or acronym anymore, and a new tag line: "Your Supply Chain's Strongest Link." But that's not all that's new with the cargo-security program, according to Liz Schmelzinger, director of CTPAT programs in U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP's) Office of Field Operations.

CTPAT, established in 2001 to prevent terrorists from carrying out attacks on the United States via international transportation networks, is a voluntary public-private program with 11,000-plus members, including importers, exporters, surface carriers (ocean, highway, and rail), customs brokers, marine terminal operators, freight consolidators, and other entities that have a stake in cross-border cargo security. To be accepted as "CTPAT Partners," members work with CBP to identify security gaps and implement specific security measures and best practices; they must then undergo periodic audits to verify compliance. Partners are considered low-risk and are eligible for such benefits as fewer CBP cargo examinations and priority treatment at border crossings. Schmelzinger outlined some recent developments and future plans at the 16th Annual Northeast Cargo Symposium held by the Coalition of New England Companies for Trade (CONECT) in Providence, R.I., earlier this month. She has asked her team to revamp CTPAT's best practices recommendations, shifting from a catalog of specific actions to a framework that could be adapted to companies of all sizes. About 30 percent of CTPAT members are small and medium-size companies with 70 employees or less, she said, noting that what would be achievable and affordable for a large company may not be for a smaller firm. "The notion of scalability will be critical to the best practices framework," she said.

The new framework, which is still in development, will include five elements:

1. Senior management support, including the participating organization's culture and management philosophy regarding security and compliance
2. Innovative application of technology, as appropriate for the company's size and resources
3. Documented processes, including consistency and continuity over time
4. Checks, balances, and auditing, including such areas as accountability and testing
5. Evidence of implementation; that is, proof that plans have been put into practice and are being maintained

Similar topics are covered by CBP's current best practices documents, but those largely consist of examples of specific practices and policies CBP auditors have seen during CTPAT assessments.

Among the other developments Schmelzinger discussed:

  • A working group that includes CBP headquarters and field staff, representatives of industry associations, and trade-compliance and cargo-security experts from private industry, is taking a fresh look at CTPAT's minimum security requirements under the SAFE Port Act of 2006, because "the legal mandate is the same, but the threats have changed," Schmelzinger said. For example, cybersecurity and terrorism financing were not widely considered a problem when the law was written. "We have to redefine the standards to reflect current reality," she said. Separately, CBP is working to make CTPAT's requirements clearer, less repetitious, and more specific to the transportation mode and the type of entity involved, such as carriers, freight forwarders, or importers, she said.
  • CBP plans to consolidate CTPAT (cargo security) and the Importer Self-Assessment (ISA) program (trade compliance) to create a certification that is more like the Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) programs in Europe and other parts of the world, which assess and certify companies based on their practices in both areas. The objective of bringing the U.S. standards closer to those of major trading partners, Schmelzinger said, is to enable U.S.-based trusted traders to benefit from the acceptance of their U.S. certifications by AEO programs in other countries. CBP's Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee issued recommendations for the combined program last year.
  • The Advanced Qualified Unlading Approval (AQUA) program, which allows CTPAT-member ocean carriers and terminals to begin unloading immediately on arrival, rather than wait for CBP officers to conduct an inspection and authorize unloading, has helped to speed unloading at a number of ports, a benefit that "trickles down to your supply chain," Schmelzinger said. Authorization is granted on a case-by-case basis, and CBP plans to automate the application and authorization process.
  • CBP and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have jointly conducted re-evaluations of cargo security practices and policies for 20 air carriers that are based overseas. By collaborating on a single audit and certification, as opposed to the separate processes that previously were required, the agencies are improving efficiency and reducing the administrative burden for both themselves and the carriers. A similar collaboration with the U.S. Coast Guard is "in the works," Schmelzinger said.

Schmelzinger was also asked about CBP's plans to extend CTPAT to exports. "We're not there yet," she said, adding that although it's still on CBP's agenda, there are "not enough resources right now" to make it a priority.

Toby Gooley is Editor of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly.

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