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Customs inspectors deployed outside North America


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For the first time in the 213-year history of the U.S. Customs Service, inspectors have been assigned outside North America to screen cargo before it is shipped to the United States, the agency said Monday.

U.S. Customs officers have been deployed at the Port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, as part of the Container Security Initiative (CSI), Commissioner Robert C. Bonner announced during a speech on homeland security at the Center for Strategic Studies.

The Netherlands was first in Europe to sign an agreement to participate in CSI.

Bonner said U.S. Customs is also negotiating agreements with other major trading partners under CSI, which was launched in January.

"These partnerships not only make our nations safer, but make the entire global trading system safer as well," he said.

Under the program, U.S. Customs inspectors will be assigned to the Port of Rotterdam where they will try to identify U.S.-bound containers that pose a terrorist threat.

Once such containers are identified, Dutch Customs officials are to screen them.

Each year, nearly half of the value of all U.S. imports arrives via sea cargo containers, the U.S. Customs Service said.

Because more than two-thirds of the 5.7 million sea containers entering the United States each year arrive from 20 international seaports, U.S. Customs is initially focusing on them.

U.S. Customs and the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency exchanged inspectors at select ports in March to target and screen containers bound for each nation.

In addition to Canada, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and German have signed agreements with U.S. Customs to implement the program at the Ports of Rotterdam, Le Havre, Antwerp, Bremerhaven, and Hamburg.

Singapore has also indicated that it will participate in CSI. These are six of the top 20 ports that ship to the United States.

Rotterdam's program is expected to be operational by September 2 and in Le Havre, Antwerp, Bremerhaven and Hamburg in the next few months.

It won't stop there, Bonner said, adding, "I expect that we will be signing agreements with several other governments with many more of the world's major ports in the next few weeks."

The four core elements of CSI are:

  • Establish security criteria to identify high-risk containers;
  • Screen those containers identified as high-risk before they arrive at U.S. ports;
  • Use technology to screen high-risk containers;
  • Develop and use smarter, more secure containers.




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