- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

A new rule designed to thwart terrorists by stopping the illegal transport of goods on ships is causing only minor disruptions to international trade, according to public- and private-sector officials tracking the program.
Authorities this week began enforcing a rule that requires ocean carriers to provide U.S. Customs with manifests of what is in cargo containers 24 hours before their ships leave a foreign port bound for the United States.
Companies said the rule forced a fundamental shift in they way they operate. Until the weekend, they could transmit information after they left a foreign port, allowing more flexibility and last-minute adjustments.
"Last year when this 24-hour rule was announced, there was a lot of hesitation and a lot of concern because it represents a fairly major change in the way the industry operates," said Henry Tang, secretary of commerce, industry and technology for Hong Kong, which has one of the world's busiest ports.
"There were many write-ups that we would not be able to comply, that there would be chaos. We proved them wrong," Mr. Tang said.
About 2.6 percent of the 11,000 containers moving through the port during the 24-hour rule's first four days lacked adequate description and had to be held. Mr. Tang said.
"While that is too many, I feel that because the change has been so significant, it is an acceptable figure," he said.
Companies along the supply chain and U.S. Customs this week said they are satisfied with the way the rule, a reaction to the September 11 attacks, is working.
"Overwhelmingly, things have gone well," said John DeCrosta, director of legal affairs at APL, a company with more than 80 container ships.
Jonathan Gold, director of international trade policy for the International Mass Retailers Association, said that U.S. Customs has taken the right approach so far by keeping companies informed and phasing in the rule.
"They have still got a lot of companies trying to figure this out. But as long as customs continues to work with the trade community, we will try to get through this smoothly," he said.
Chris Koch, president of the World Shipping Council, which represents ocean liner firms, said the industry had put an enormous effort into getting ready and that has paid off.
Jay Ahern, U.S. Customs assistant commissioner for field operations, said that the agency is pleased with the response so far from companies involved in shipping products.
Customs is focusing on making sure that cargo descriptions are accurate and is "exceptionally pleased" so far, he said.
The agency will begin looking harder at the timeliness of reports and then go into more detail examining descriptions as it phases in the rule, he said.
"We don't envision not allowing a ship to unload in the United States," Mr. Ahern said. "Compliance from all ports across the board has been high, and we're pleased with that."

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