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`US Customs surveillance not a trade barrier'

Our Bureau

The new Rule was part of a national security measure post-September 11 incidents, and should not be viewed as a non-tariff trade barrier to developing country exports to US, the official said.

KOLKATA, March 11

THE new 24-hour Vessel Manifest Rule, already implemented by the United States Customs Service, and under which enforcement actions have already started, was being applied uniformly to exports emanating from all countries. The Rule requires presentation of cargo declaration to US Customs, preferably through an online electronic system, 24 hours before loading of the vessel, and is considered very important for Indian exporters, shipping lines, freight forwarders and other logistics providers.

Participating in an interactive session on `Advance filing of import cargo declaration' organised by the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) here on Tuesday, Mr James L. Dozier, Customs Attaché, US Embassy in India, said the new Rule has been warranted as a national security measure post-September 11 incidents, and should not be viewed as a non-tariff trade barrier to developing country exports to US, as the Rule was being strictly enforced against all container cargo entering US ports from any part of the world.

Describing the move as a new counter-terrorism measure, he told Indian exporters that the 9/11 experience has identified the need for urgent changes in the usual way of business, "since the existing Automated Manifest System (AMS) and the paper manifests did not provide enough detailed information on the container shipments and adequate time to target high-risk shipments."

Mr Dozier clarified that the US Customs Service, which enforces 600 different Federal statutes/laws on behalf of as many as 60 government agencies, required a more secure way of identifying contents of shipments "because the danger of weapons of mass destruction in a container coming into or transiting the US was a threat to national security and the entire shipping industry."

He said failure to provide the cargo information in advance could result in penalties, liquidated damages, denial of loading at a foreign port or permission for cargo to unload on arrival in the US. Stating that the new Rule would be beneficial to all countries, once full compliance is achieved, he assured no additional costs would accrue on this count, as the objective was to strictly enforce customs-related laws and combat terrorism. Exporters need have no fears over genuine mistakes (while declaring the cargo prior to lading), as a 60-day time frame is allotted to rectify these aberrations. Suggesting that national security was a huge issue for US Customs, he urged the international trading community to view the 24-hour Vessel Manifest Rule to look at it in the right perspective. "We do not want to penalise people unjustly."

The Rule will apply to bulk cargo and break bulk cargo, which are generally exempted from this, as these would be subjected to inspections on a case-by-case basis. "We will also follow a strict code of confidentiality, as the Rule has been put in place after series of discussions with all stake-holders," he said.

Around 90 per cent of world cargo is today moved by containers and nearly 200 million containers, on average, move between major ports each year. As part of the revamping of US federal agencies post September 11, the US Customs Service has now been brought under the Department of Homeland Security.

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