US port checks threaten world trade

4 September 2002
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05 September 2002 | Liam O'Brien

Global supply chains are being threatened by restrictive customs controls to be imposed by US authorities in the continuing aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 11 September last year.

David Wakeford, chief executive of Sitpro, the UK government agency that works to reduce trade barriers, warned that just-in-time and extended supply chains are jeopardised by the new US rules.

The rules will see US customs inspectors stationed at 20 ports in Europe, the Far East and South America.

Such ports will be given preferential status, but traffic through all other facilities will be subject to container-by-container inspections by US officials.

In an exclusive interview with SM, Wakeford, a former ICI international trade manager, said: "The US is introducing a huge potential threat to global trade and economic prospects.

"This initiative is going to have a severely detrimental effect on open borders and add costs. There will be minimal delays at these 20 ports, but from all the others, the containers will have extensive scrutiny."

The controls, which will mean US Coastguard ships inspecting vessels en route and the x-raying of every container, are likely to cause particular problems for extended supply chains, Wakeford added.

"It will cause more problems because it will increase costs and delays. It may even cause companies to source more locally rather than globally."

It is feared that the disruption to trade will be most acutely felt in the developing world, with no ports in Africa among the 20.

Even countries with ports on the list will be affected. The only UK port listed is Felixstowe.

David Gilmour, European purchasing director at glass maker Pilkington, said: "This is not going to affect us because we already ship out of Felixstowe, but that is not going to be the case for all those companies that use other UK ports.

"If I was a volume producer using a port not on the 'magic 20' list, I would be concerned."

Dr Helen Peck, a senior research fellow at Cranfield University, who is researching post-11 September supply chains, said: "The US is putting all kinds of customs measures in place and people are now taking a second look at their supply chains to see how resilient they are."


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