CBP eyes Latin America for mutual trusted-trader programs

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Customs and Border Protection agreed with Mexico on Jan. 18 to begin work on mutual recognition of their trusted-trader programs, and arrangements with other Latin American countries may soon follow.

"I think we're gaining tremendous momentum with Colombia, Peru and others," said Dan Baldwin, CBP's executive director for cargo and conveyance security, in an interview.

When companies join CBP's trusted-trader program, the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, they agree to implement certain security measures. They then pose less of a security risk, so in exchange, CBP puts them through fewer cargo exams, and their wait times at the border decrease. Among the other possible perks is a CBP point of contact, "essentially an account manager," Baldwin said, whom they can call for help with customs problems.

"There are many, many other incentives and benefits that can be offered," he added. 

Mexico and the United States must first tweak the security protocols of their programs so they're consistent. The bulk of the preparation, though, will consist of CBP specialists going to Mexico and joining their counterparts as they evaluate Mexican companies, and vice versa. "Two to three years is probably about right, particularly with partners the size of Mexico," Baldwin said. 

After CBP signed a mutual recognition arrangement with the European Union's customs agency last May, requests came in from other countries around the world. "We're actually hoping to help create that snowball effect" specifically in Latin America, Baldwin said.

CBP signed its first mutual arrangement in 2007, with New Zealand. Arrangements with Canada, Jordan, Japan, South Korea, the European Union and Taiwan followed.

The agency has also officially agreed with Israel to work toward such an arrangement, and negotiations are under way with Singapore. China has also approached CBP about having mutual programs.

Baldwin did note that terrorists and criminals are likely to try to exploit the trust that customs agencies place in participating companies. Still, in his view, "this is perhaps the most important global initiative that exists to maintain international global supply chain security."

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