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Cargo

Tightening the noose

The TSA is continuing with plans to screen all US-bound cargo by December 2012. But, asks Ian Putzger, are all the pieces in place for this to happen?
 

December 3 looms ominously large over the industry. A year ago, the US Transportation Security Administration acknowledged that the ground was not ready for the introduction of the requirement to screen all US-bound bellyhold cargo by the end of 2011, and decided to postpone the implementation. Less than half a year later, Washington reckoned that sufficient progress had been made to get the programme back on track, and decreed that the mandate to screen all cargo on passenger planes headed for the US would come into effect in December.

 

The announcement has met with no loud cries of opposition from the ranks of the air freight industry, suggesting that the obstacles barring the way a year ago have since disappeared, or at least diminished sufficiently to make the regime viable.

 

Without a doubt, there has been considerable progress on a number of fronts to pave the way towards the targeted plan. Washington’s original objective of getting governments around the world to subscribe to its vision and establish the corresponding national rules by the end of last year had always looked hopelessly ambitious. “Going extraterritorial and demanding things can be very difficult to implement,” notes Bill Gottlieb, past president of Fiata and a director of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association.

 

Since last December, the drive has passed some major milestones, arguably the most prominent being the agreement between the US and the European Union to align their security regimes and recognise each other’s set-up. Having the US and EU frameworks in harmony makes a significant difference, agrees Brandon Fried, executive director of the US Airforwarders Association and one of the leading industry voices in the dialogue with Washington.

 

Other countries have also been positioning themselves to move in sync. Japan and the EU agreed on mutual recognition of their Authorised Economic Operator programmes last spring. Japan also has agreements with the US, Canada, New Zealand and South Korea, and the authorities in Tokyo want to sign similar agreements with other Asian nations, especially China, as soon as possible.

 

Canada which, like the EU, has harmonised its regime with that south of its border, is moving towards the implementation of its own mandate for 100% screening of freight on outbound passenger flights, which will come into effect on 31 December 2012. Although some of the elements of the new set-up were only clarified in late spring, forwarders and carriers have expressed confidence that the venture will work.

 

Another major breakthrough for the emerging security regime happened in Washington itself, as the thinking of US lawmakers underwent a fundamental change in the wake of the discovery in September 2010 of explosives hidden inside printer cartridges that had been shipped with FedEx and UPS. The incidents revealed not only that terrorists had included freighters within their plans to plant explosives on aircraft, they also exposed the flawed logic of Washington’s security strategy, which hinged fully on the use of technology to detect threats. The failure to spot the explosives inside the printer cartridges led the US authorities to modify their approach to include risk assessment as a key element in the security strategy. Rather than subject everything to a uniform screening mandate, the TSA has embraced an approach where shipments flagged as ‘high risk’ undergo enhanced screening, while those deemed low risk face less rigorous screening measures and can flow through the system faster.

 

“By making greater use of intelligence, the TSA can strengthen screening processes and ensure the screening of all cargo shipments without impeding the flow of commerce,” declared TSA administrator John Pistole when the revised strategy was unveiled.

 

The vehicle chosen to power the inbound screening mandate appears less ready for takeoff. The core element of the TSA’s play to have all the necessary data for risk assessment ready prior to the cargo getting to the US is the Air Cargo Advance Screening (Acas) programme, which officially started in March with the launch of a pilot run for integrated express operators. Upon its completion, the TSA looked to airlines and forwarders for the next round of trials.


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