Contributed Column

The Shipping News

From Shanghai to Shelburne,
Qingdou to Quechee

by Lindsey Lefebvre, A.N. Deringer

Anyone boarding an airplane recently has experienced the heightened tension and security in today’s travel environment. Waiting in security lines, having your shoes X-rayed and losing your nail scissors to the TSA attendants are among the new commonplace procedures.

Flying outside the country poses additional complications requiring extra identification, special permissions and more-advanced arrival time at the airport. Travel security measures to move passengers from Point A to Point B have dramatically increased; however, moving a shipment of lumber from Canada or those new, FAA-approved nail scissors from China has become even more complicated.

With Vermont among the top five exporting states in the country on a per-capita basis, international trade plays a vital role in the economy. Accordingly, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce has established an international trade liaison office directly in Shanghai, China. Although trade is important to the state in many ways, few people actually consider how cargo moves from Shanghai to Shelburne or Qingdou to Quechee.

Worse than being stuck on the runway while the last passengers are screened, companies importing and exporting large volumes of cargo can undergo even longer delays. Over the last couple of years, government agencies such as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency have worked to speed up the clearance of goods into and out of the country and help prevent the delays caused by tightened security.

The initiatives expediting shipments into the country include new technology and new shipping procedures. These groundbreaking tactics entail pre-screening shippers for enrollment into a CBP-preferred program, mandates for electronic pre-arrival notification of cargo, and a sophisticated, tamper-evident ocean cargo container still under development.

Preferred Shippers are C-TPAT Certified

Just as a passport is a more widely accepted means of identification than a driver’s license, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency endorses participation in the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program.

C-TPAT certification is voluntary and incentive-based; however, shippers benefit from fewer cargo inspections by U.S. Customs and quicker admittance into the country. Created in November 2001 in response to the attacks of September 11, the program pre-screens importers by imposing strict security standards to minimize the risk of terrorist threats.

Enrollment in C-TPAT has grown to more than 8,000 importers, cargo transportation agents, terminal operators and other key players in global trade. The requirements to certification are quite stringent. Some of the key components include the presence of controls to restrict access to importers’ facilities, the internal knowledge and ongoing plan to secure personnel and information technology, and efforts to push security demands to other suppliers and vendors within the supply chain. To help ensure the uninterrupted flow of business, companies can gain C-TPAT certification to prevent kinks in the supply chain and accelerate delivery of goods.

Advance Notification

Try to get on an international flight with only 20 minutes to departure; it’s unlikely you’ll be allowed to board. Started in 2004, a new security policy went a step beyond that for shipments coming into or leaving the United States. Like trying to submit a list of luggage contents before arriving at the airport, the new CBP policy, called Required Advance Electronic Presentation of Cargo Information, made it mandatory to electronically transmit information on all international cargo entering or exiting the country within a specified time frame.

Prior to this regulation, importers and exporters didn’t have to provide documentation of goods traveling internationally until the shipment arrived at the border or shore. Under the revised law, CBP must have detailed information on the shipments’ contents, destination and origin within a specified time frame, depending on the mode of transportation.

Advance notification of cargo transported via an ocean freighter requires 24 hours; rail, two hours; air, four hours; and truck, one hour. Compared to the information needed to bring goods into the country, flying internationally never seemed so easy.

Smart Containers

Like something from a science fiction movie, in the near future you can expect to find ocean shipping containers heavily laden with high-tech, multi-functional gadgets to prevent tampering. Over six million ocean containers enter this country each year and only a fraction of those are inspected. Thus identified as a target vulnerable to terrorism, ocean shipping containers are undergoing a makeover.

Dubbed smart boxes or containers, these 20- to 40-foot-long metal boxes will now have the ability to detect temperature and air changes using sensors, provide status of location using a global positioning system, and report unauthorized tampering or intrusion through radio frequency identification equipment.

Although these new devices haven’t reached mainstream usage yet, CBP has committed to rewarding shippers with quicker processing of cargo into and out of the country with use of the new containers. The next time you see freight traveling down Interstate 89, it may be in a new Jetson-style box.

In an era of globalization, the efficiency and security of international trade necessitates a smooth supply chain. In 2004, Vermont’s foreign imports were valued at over $10 billion and its exports at $3.6 billion. With 7 percent import and 18 percent export growth over the previous year, the intricacies of travel haven’t posed too much of a deterrent. While passengers traveling by air do not need a retinal scan yet, the process of importing and exporting cargo has definitely grown more complex. •

Lindsey Lefebvre is a marketing analyst for A.N. Deringer Inc., a logistics service provider specializing in freight forwarding and Customs Brokerage with headquarters in St. Albans. She also serves as a member of the board of directors for the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. She can be reached via e-mail at llefebvre@anderinger.com.

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