Customs seeks early cargo info

In another move to tighten security at the nation's borders, the Customs Service wants to require ships to electronically send a complete list of cargo to U.S. authorities at least 24 hours before loading at a foreign port.

Customs published a notice in the Federal Register Aug. 8 announcing the proposed rule.

In a speech Aug. 26, Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner said the proposed rule is one more step in policing the enormous business of importing goods to the United States. More than 500 ships arrive daily at U.S. ports, and the threat of contraband, including weapons of mass destruction, is growing.

The regulation would require cargo information to be transmitted to Customs 24 hours before loading at a foreign port. It also would require a separate list of all foreign cargo that is not destined for the United States that will remain onboard the vessel.

"Good targeting depends on complete, accurate and timely information about containers being shipped — what is in it, who is shipping the goods, where it originated and so on," Bonner said in a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Such information is essential to U.S. Customs' Automated Targeting System."

Bonner said the policy would allow Customs to "identify high-risk containers effectively and efficiently while ensuring prompt processing of lower risk containers."

Sam Banks, a former acting Customs commissioner, said that 80 percent of all vessels already send their cargo lists to Customs 48 hours before arriving at a port. Tightening the rule to 24 hours will make it harder for importers, he said, but shipping companies are likely to comply because they want to swiftly unload their cargo on arrival.

"It's to their advantage to do this, but it's going to change the dynamics," Banks said.

Comments on the rule must be received by Sept. 9.

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