Background

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has said that by Nov. 30 it will take actions to address concerns raised in a recent report about its screening of crated cargo.

According to a Government Accountability Office report, non-containerized cargo accounted for about 32 percent of the $1.5 trillion total maritime cargo value in the U.S. in 2020. This category includes breakbulk cargo, such as goods packaged and shipped on pallets or crates, as well as bulk cargo such as crude oil, chemicals, grain, coal, and lumber.

CBP’s risk-based inspection approach for non-containerized cargo includes a screening evaluation of all such shipments for risks, further targeting of potential high-risk shipments, and physical examination of shipments identified as high-risk. CBP allows for some variation in inspection activities based on differences in local factors such as available CBP resources, type of cargo processed, and port size.

CBP’s July 2021 cargo processing guidelines state that crated breakbulk cargo is of particular concern because (1) some pieces are the same size and shape (and thus offer the same level of concealment) as shipping containers, (2) it is more difficult to open compared to containers that CBP can open and reseal, and (3) its irregular size, shape, and configuration may render some inspection techniques ineffective.

However, the report notes, those guidelines do not identify additional actions or measures for CBP officers at seaports to implement to address these risks. CBP leaves it up to individual port directors to determine the best way to handle these risks, but the GAO said that doing so without specific guidance may allow for local actions that (1) allow for the release of crated cargo without sufficient targeting or examination or (2) adversely affect the facilitation of trade and business.

In response to the GAO’s report and recommendations, CBP said it would enhance its risk mitigation strategies to include additional recommended measures such as the use of canine resources and non-intrusive imaging and inspection technology. It will also initiate radiation screening measures prior to exit from the terminal for crated breakbulk cargo deemed to be high-risk for national security purposes. Further, CBP will update its July 2021 guidance to provide field personnel with the information necessary to use the full range of inspection tools and techniques available to them. CBP anticipates completing these changes by Nov. 30.

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