Following the tragic events of 9/11, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that was formed in response to those events, together with other agencies in DHS, became responsible for ensuring that goods being imported into the U.S. had been secured from terrorist threats. A number of different legal requirements have been instituted, most recently the requirement that importers file an Importer Security Filing (ISF) with each entry of containerized cargo. The US has also worked with numerous port authorities around the world to enhance the security measures taken overseas before cargo whose final destination is the US is laden on a vessel. Air cargo is also subject to enhanced security requirements, including cargo handled by express couriers.
However, the program that has probably had the greatest impact on importers and foreign suppliers is the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), which CBP first rolled out in 2002. While this, nominally, is still considered a "voluntary" program, market conditions, such as the requirement that C-TPAT members only deal with business partners who are either C-TPAT members or can certify that they meet C-TPAT minimum security standards, suggests that it is, for practical purposes, a requirement for all importers. Security reviews have also been made a standard part of a Customs audit for those companies who are not members of C-TPAT.
The procedure for joining the C-TPAT program, and the conditions for maintain membership in the program are found on the CBP website. Briefly, the applicant, which may be an importer, broker, other party in the supply chain such as a carrier or consolidator, as well as certain foreign suppliers, must respond to the questions on the CBP website which address the security profile of the applicant. A Supply Chain Security Specialist (SCSS) will review the responses and if all are acceptable, will inform the applicant that they have been accepted as a member of the program. In the case of an importer the application will ask questions about the security measures that are in place at all of the locations which handle cargo destined to the U.S. such as factories, consolidators, warehouses, etc. They questions are quite specific, such as what type of physical security is present at the plant, is there a perimeter fence, what type of access controls are in place for visitors and employees, how is inventory guarded, what procedure is followed to load and seal containers, what type of security training and awareness programs are in place, what type of IT security is in place and similar questions that are all designed to allow CBP to acertain whether the facilities met so-called “minimum security requirements.” After an importer is accepted into the program, CBP will schedule a validation, i.e.., a visit to a foreign facility. If the security procedures at the facility are found to be acceptable the importer will become a certified member and be giving a rating of Tier II (meets minimum security standards) or Tier III (exceeds minimum security standards), or will fail the validation and be given an opportunity to address the changes that have been identified or be suspended from the program. Every member has to be re-validated every three of four years, depending on their status in the program.
BRC has assisted many importers in helping them prepare for the application process, assisting in filing the application and preparing companies for a successful validation. Several clients that we have helped have attained Tier III status, a ranking that is achieved by only a few hundred of the ten thousand companies who have joined so far. We have provided guidance on how to evaluate several hundred supply chains that individual companies may have and have provided clients with all the necessary tools needed to remain member in good standing in the program.