Congress plays political football with cargo

The fallout from the failed attempt of Dubai-based DP World to acquire terminals at several U.S. ports continues to have repercussions for shippers. The National Retail Federation (NRF) (www.nrf.com), a trade association representing 1.4 million retail establishments, has called on the U.S. Congress to reject legislation requiring scanning of all cargo bound for the U.S.

One objection from the NRF is the term "scanning" is not adequately defined in legislation being put forth in the House of Representatives, and that if enacted, the proposal could result in costly delays that could harm the national economy. The bill — H.R. 4899, Sail Only if Scanned Act (SOS Act) — would require all cargo containers destined for U.S. ports to be scanned in the foreign port before being loaded on ships headed to the U.S.

Steve Fister, the NRF's senior vice president for government relations, points out that "scan" could mean use of X-ray equipment, gamma ray scan or the Integrated Container Inspection System (ICIS) used in Hong Kong. Further, notes Fister, the bill doesn't say who would perform the scans nor how they would pass the results on to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

While the ICIS program has had success, the NRF points out the program relies on business practices and investments made by Hong Kong terminal operators. Similar practices and funding may not be practical at smaller, less prosperous ports in other nations, Fister observes.

"Efforts to unilaterally impose a similar scanning requirement at all foreign ports that process U.S.-bound cargo could lead to crippling delays because of lack of resources and capabilities among various ports," Fister warns. He points out that feeder ports like those in Southeast Asia, South-Central Asia and Africa don't have the capacity to scan and screen large numbers of containers due to physical limitations and the lack of resources.

The SOS Act is expected to be offered as an amendment to H.R. 4954, the Security and Accountability for Every Port Act (SAFE Port Act). LT

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