U.S. retailers and manufacturers foresee few immediate disruptions to international trade when new security rules for ports and ships take effect on Thursday, although the majority of foreign facilities and many vessels have not complied with the global regulations.
“We do not anticipate any significant glitches,” said Damian Smith, director of intercontinental logistics for General Motors. The Detroit auto giant ships about 828,000 vehicles among more than 290 ports annually.
Countries around the world are required, by Thursday, to implement the first international ship and port security standards, which require security assessments, emergency plans and dedicated security personnel.
The 147 members of the U.N. International Maritime Organization adopted the new rules to make ports safer and verify the security of ships. More than 80 percent of world trade, by volume, travels by sea, making ships and ports an inviting target for terrorists looking to damage the global economy or smuggle dangerous goods.
“By taking a layered, cooperative and balanced approach to strengthening the international maritime system, we are not only further securing our country, we are also protecting U.S. economic interests and the global economy,” Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said last week in describing the new measures.
Congress and the Department of Homeland Security have created several post-September 11 programs to tighten up security at air, land and sea ports. Other nations and groups also have or are considering stepping up security for international trade.
The NATO military alliance, for example, this week plans to consider new defenses aimed at protecting ports from attack, stopping homemade bombs and creating new methods of sending commandos into hot spots.
The new U.N.-brokered code that takes effect Thursday is a multilateral effort that requires nations to police their own ports and vessels based on a common set of standards. The International Maritime Organization last week estimated that a majority of vessels had complied with the code, but less than 20 percent of ports had worldwide.
Coast Guard spokeswoman Jolie Shifflet said all vessels calling on U.S. ports will be required to have the necessary certificate or they will not be allowed to enter. Ships with a certificate will be boarded and inspected.
Once vessels build a track record of compliance with code requirements, they are less likely to be boarded, she said.
“We are expecting few if any delays,” Ms. Shifflet said. About 7,600 vessels made 51,000 port calls to the United States in 2003, according to Coast Guard figures.
“I don’t think you are going to see a lot of disruption on July 1,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president of international trade policy at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a trade group whose members include Best Buy and Wal-Mart.
Despite the new measures, some question how much safer ships and ports have become since September 11, 2001.
“The industry is such a large industry, it is difficult to provide the level of security you would hope to provide. The shipments can come in any place from any person, and we are simply relying on documentation to provide security,” said an aide to Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, the South Carolina Democrat who has championed many of the new port security programs. The aide asked not to be named.