Feds rely on shipper self-policing

NEW YORK CITY — The federal government has not decided what cargo standards to use or whether to impose any at all for smart containers — the major method of shipping goods to the United States, a top official said on Wednesday.

Richard Biter, deputy director of the office of intermodalism at the Transportation Department, said the federal government is still relying on the shipping industry to police itself.

Companies also have added incentives to inspect their own cargo and make sure they are secure, a requirement they must meet to get speedier access through U.S. ports. More than six million containers pass through U.S. ports each year.

An interagency working group has not come up with a definition of a smart container, Biter said, adding that any regulations written will be phased in incrementally.

"You're not going to see a requirement that every container be retrofitted with certain data," Biter told the U.S. Maritime Security Expo meeting here this week.

Biter, who helps oversee container shipments from ship to rail and truck, said it is important to maintain a secure supply chain to fight terrorism.

"We're not at a stage to know what is the best security regime for every container," Biter said.

Nevertheless, private industry is already far ahead, he said. For example, Wal-Mart requires identifying data on every one of its shipments from overseas right down to the package level.

R. James Woolsey, a former director of the CIA and another speaker at the maritime expo, told the gathering that shipping companies are better off being "incentivized by the market rather than have government regulators tell us what to do."

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