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Orgs Seek Repeal of 100% Container Scanning Mandate

The United States has again delayed its demand that all U.S.-bound maritime cargo containers undergo 100 percent scanning, and a group of industry trade bodies are entreating Congress to repeal the mandate altogether.

Under the proposed provision, which originated in 2006 as a pilot program under the SAFE Port Act, all incoming cargo would be scanned for radiation and nuclear weapons. The deadline for implementation was set for 2012 after the SAFE Port Act was amended in 2010 with criteria for a two-year waiver.

Following that waiver, the implementation deadline for the mandate was waived for an additional two years–and expires this July. Industry experts have said the mandate was put off for a multitude of reasons, but namely that it just isn’t feasible.

Organizations including the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America (FDRA), the National Retail Federation (NRF) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson Monday citing support for his recent two-year extension on the deadline for implementation, but asking that Congress nix the mandate and focus more practical supply chain security solutions.

“The statutory provision calling for 100% container scanning has always been, and remains, impractical and does not actually improve security. If implemented, this provision would haveon a significantly negative impact on global commerce and cause significant conflict with the governments of our foreign trading partners, many of which have stated their opposition to the requirement previously,” the letter noted.

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As many as 30,000 containers come in to U.S. ports each day and the amount of time it would take to scan every one would cause extreme delays across the supply chain.

According to Nate Herman, vice president of international trade for the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), “To paraphrase Albert Einstein, to keep requesting 100 percent scanning of all containers — but expecting a different result — is insanity. DHS is already doing 100 percent screening that targets high risk cargo. And this is working. The 100 percent physical scanning requirement may sound good but it is unnecessary, impossible to implement, and would grind trade to a halt.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has already developed an effective risk-based strategy to screen all containerized cargo shipments and inspect those determined to be high risk, the letter noted, and it does so without impairing the efficiency of the global supply chain as the 100 percent scanning mandate would.

The controversial mandate also fails on several points, according to the letter. It does not specify whether scanning entails just reading an image, or also reading that image to determine if the container’s contents are OK to proceed. It also doesn’t address with what resources CBP’s National Targeting Center would be able to analyze scans of the more than 10 million maritime containers coming into the U.S. each year. Costs of implementing the process, and operating and maintaining the necessary equipment was also a concern.

Johnson’s renewal of the waiver received the signatories’ full support, but the letter did note, however, “instead of going through this exercise every two years, we urge you and the Administration to recommend to the Congress that the statutory 100% container scanning requirement be repealed. That would be the most appropriate way to address this flawed provision and allow the Department, industry and our trading partners to focus on real solutions to address any security gaps that remain in the global supply chain.”