All cargo is screened before it enters the U.S., but you may be surprised to learn that not all cargo is physically inspected. The screening processing could begin at the U.S. port of entry or as early as the foreign port of exit (port of lading). Although very complex, cargo container screening versus inspection can simply be explained as gathering information on a container versus physically inspecting the container itself.


The U.S. receives over 25 million cargo containers annually equating to roughly 48 containers entering U.S. ports each minute. Over 11 million are received by ocean and truck respectively and 3 million by rail. One can imagine how physical inspection could overwhelm U.S. ports and bring the entry process to a stand-still. Of the total import to the U.S. 100% are screened, however, only 3% of ocean, 24% of truck and 90% of rail freight are actually physically inspected by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). While screening is a greater security risk than physical inspection, it is a significant tradeoff to ensuring the steady flow of freight.



Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT) is but one layer in U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) multi-layered cargo enforcement strategy. Through this program, CBP works with the trade community to strengthen international supply chains and improve United States border security. CTPAT is a voluntary public-private sector partnership program which recognizes that CBP can provide the highest level of cargo security only through close cooperation with the principle stakeholders of the international supply chain such as importers, carriers, consolidators, licensed customs brokers, and manufacturers. The Security and Accountability for Every Port Act of 2006 provided a statutory framework for the CTPAT program and imposed strict program oversight requirements.


• Reduced number of CBP examinations
• Front of the line inspections
• Possible exemption from Stratified Exams
• Shorter wait times at the border
• Assignment of a Supply Chain Security Specialist to the company
• Access to the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) Lanes at the land borders
• Access to the CTPAT web-based Portal system and a library of training materials
• Possibility of enjoying additional benefits by being recognized as a trusted trade Partner by foreign Customs administrations that have signed Mutual Recognition with the United States
• Eligibility for other U.S. Government pilot programs, such as the Food and Drug Administration’s Secure Supply Chain program
• Business resumption priority following a natural disaster or terrorist attack
• Importer eligibility to participate in the Importer Self-Assessment Program (ISA)
• Priority consideration at CBP’s industry-focused Centers of Excellence and Expertise 


Since September 11, 2001 there have been numerous regulatory changes to transportation, including international cargo. One of the biggest changes was the creation of the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT) which was launched in November 2001 and is under CBP control. CTPAT was formed to give carriers and shippers the chance to partner with CBP through an accepted supply chain security plan. Approved CTPAT carriers and shippers are less likely to be subject to cargo inspections. These carriers and shippers now have a stake in the responsibility of proper compliance and safety with CBP.



CSI addresses the threat to border security and global trade posed by the potential for terrorist use of a maritime container to deliver a weapon. CSI proposes a security regime to ensure all containers that pose a potential risk for terrorism are identified and inspected at foreign ports before they are placed on vessels destined for the United States. CBP has stationed teams of U.S. CBP Officers in foreign locations to work together with our host foreign government counterparts. Their mission is to target and prescreen containers and to develop additional investigative leads related to the terrorist threat to cargo destined to the United States.


• Identify high-risk containers. CBP uses automated targeting tools to identify containers that pose a potential risk for terrorism, based on advance information and strategic intelligence.
• Prescreen and evaluate containers before they are shipped. Containers are screened as early in the supply chain as possible, generally at the port of departure.
• Use technology to prescreen high-risk containers to ensure that screening can be done rapidly without slowing down the movement of trade. This technology includes large-scale X-ray and gamma ray machines and radiation detection devices.


Despite the best of intentions and partnerships, there can still be failures in the process. When the National Cargo Bureau (NCB) inspected 500 containers from four of the 17 carrier members who make up the Cargo Incident Notification System (CINS), the chosen CMA-CGM, Hapag-Llyod, Hamburg Sud and Maersk Line, had both general cargo and dangerous goods selected for inspection. The NCB performed a limited visibility “tailgate” inspection by opening the back doors of the trailer for a visual exam.

The NCB came back with shocking numbers from the test:

• At least 55% of the containers reported one or more compliance issues;
• From the dangerous goods containers, problems were found in 69% of the import containers and 38% of the export containers.
• Incorrect paperwork and improper securing of the cargo was found among all of the containers.

Although these issues may seem trivial at first glance, both can lead to serious consequences. Incorrect paperwork can easily allow for smuggling activities to occur and improper securing of cargo can cause freight to move or tip during transport and ultimately even fires onboard vessels.

Though screening is far less reliable than physical inspection, the risk is worth taking to ensure freight flow into the U.S. is not disrupted; so long as both the carriers and shippers share in their responsibilities for proper safety and compliance.

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