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Seven hundred foreign ports ship goods to the U.S., industry officials said, and the business community is concerned about the ramifications of provisions in the proposed bill. The measure is intended to step up the U.S. fight against terrorism.
Another initiative being rolled out by the Department of Homeland Security that could slow down port traffic requires to have background and immigration checks on more than 750,000 U.S. port workers as part of an antiterrorist program. Once they are cleared, port workers would be required to carry a tamper-proof identification card.
Retailers and apparel vendors imported $89.2 billion worth of clothing and textiles last year; even the slightest delay in clearing Customs in a foreign or U.S. port could interrupt their entire supply chains.
Some executives said it would be difficult to adjust, although others, who had sought to strengthen supply chains and partner with the government in security programs, weren't troubled.
Mark Jaeger, senior vice president and general counsel at Jockey International, said the company was concerned about the 100 percent screening mandate and the impact on the global flow of containers.
"We think the risk-based system [currently employed by Homeland Security] is more sensible, but we understand the concern over global security issues," Jaeger said. "The obvious questions of implementation, the time frame and the costs need to be addressed carefully."
Jaeger said there was always a concern for "disruption or shocks to the extended supply chain." He pointed to port strikes, weather delays and peak shipping seasons as factors that continually have to be monitored.
"[The proposal] would add another risk to your time schedules and deliveries," he said. "We will have to have a comfort level that the port can handle testing all of their containers and still meet our delivery schedules."
Commenting on background checks for port workers, Jaeger said, "In today's environment, there is a clear need to have increased security at our ports. On the other hand, you have to look at the implications on commercial activity. We need to find a reasonable balance."
Tom Haugen, president of sourcing firm Li & Fung USA, said the three- and five-year timetable seemed "reasonable" if ports received sufficient equipment.