Like so many other aspects of our lives, the way goods move into and out of the United States changed forever on September 11, 2001. In just over three years, a layered regulatory framework has descended upon intermodal trade with the dual goal of increased supply chain security and efficient commerce. Given a patient and growing terrorist threat, as well as projected increases in global trade volumes, that dual goal may prove impossible to CBP and other U.S. agencies if current security initiatives don’t evolve to reflect a quickly changing world. Unfortunately, if history is our guide, sole reliance on government bureaucracy and congressional funding debates will make for a slow evolution—perhaps dangerously slow. While security initiatives must achieve the same prominence and untouchability as did our national defense during the Cold War, a slow, methodical buildup of a decades-long defense simply won’t work in today’s environment. The new terrorist enemy working in secret with unknown weapons and capabilities—and with surprise always on its side—is vastly different from our past superpower adversaries.

The prospect of general economic disaster and loss of life from a trade-related attack does place significant responsibility on government agencies for protection. And in the relatively short time since 9/11, CBP and its partners have done a commendable job in putting a system in place that offers one means for safeguarding trade. How effective the system is, however, no one knows for sure. And while it is one means for protecting commerce, it certainly isn’t the only one and may not be the best. At the very least, as outlined in this report, companies must assume responsibility for internal security, then anticipate changes in the current federal system of targeting and inspection to mitigate delays and stay one step ahead of government mandates.

But industry can do better than simply following the federal lead and taking educated guesses about where it will head next. Industry can assume greater control.

Ensuring safe and efficient trade must involve quick, proactive management of risk. Who else but free-market business can best lead such an effort? While CBP will always play an integral role in protecting the nation at its points of entry, initiatives like ATS, CSI, and C-TPAT will have to go global and incorporate all customs agencies and all trading companies around the world if they are to achieve true protection of U.S. interests. Such a grassroots approach can best be directed by the system itself, through its members: the vast number of interconnected businesses around the globe. Like an organism that evolves to survive a harsh new environment, the system—and not its regulators—will find the best way to flourish amid forces that want to destroy it. Market-driven new technologies and risk-managed security not only will provide greater protection. They also will create a network of intermodal trade that, even in the devoutly wished absence of global terrorism, works better than any system the world has ever known.

This section appeared in Manzella Trade Communications' report Averting Disaster: The Future of Cargo Security and How Supply Chain Managers Must Prepare, 2005.

James Burroughs
About The Author James Burroughs
James Burroughs is a writer based in California.


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