Importers Concerned With Port Security Plan

Apparel importers, regularly stressed about the timing of deliveries, are anxious about a House vote set for today on a bill that would require 100 percent...

New ships entering service can carry between 500 and 9600 containers

New ships entering service can carry between 5,00 and 9,600 containers.

Photo By WWD Staff

WASHINGTON — Apparel importers, regularly stressed about the timing of deliveries, are anxious about a House vote set for today on a bill that would require 100 percent screening of all cargo containers at foreign ports.

Some executives said the measure — should it be approved by the House and the Senate — may force them to shift their sourcing strategies and add to their costs if major delays develop at ports. Others, however, were more sanguine, saying that they would evolve to meet the new requirements and that beefed-up security was necessary.

"I think it will be an extraordinary challenge to adapt not only for the industry but also for foreign ports and governments," said Allen Thompson, vice president of supply chain security for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which counts giants Wal-Mart and Target as members. "This is something massive in terms of operational requirements."

The new House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), has made passage of the initiative part of her first "100 hours" agenda. The measure, part of a broad bill implementing recommendations of the 9/11 commission, would mandate a phased-in application of technology to monitor for radiation and weapons at large foreign ports within three years and smaller foreign ports within five years.

However, the clock on the three- and five-year phase-ins would not start until a pilot project testing technology at three foreign ports — a requirement incorporated in a port and cargo security bill passed last year — was completed. It would also require containers to be sealed, "as the technology becomes available," after they have been screened with a device that would sound an alarm if it were tampered with and notify U.S. officials.

Democrats failed in their efforts last year to pass a 100 percent screening measure in a bill that Congress passed and President Bush signed into law in the fall. They argued that the estimated 5 percent scanning rate of more than 12 million containers entering the country annually was dangerously low. Republicans resisted full inspection at foreign ports, saying it wasn't practical.

The latest bill is expected to pass the House, but faces a tougher battle in the Senate, where Democrats maintain a razor-thin 51-49 majority, industry experts said.

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