Fighting Terrorism through Customs Trade Partnerships

By Shawn Beddows, Deputy Attache, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, United States Mission to the European Union

It is no secret that the terrorist attacks on 9/11 forever changed the world we live in. As a legacy U.S. Customs Inspector working in Newark, NJ on that fateful day, I can vividly recall the chaotic moments following the impacts of the planes into the World Trade Center buildings, which I could see from my office in the Newark/Elizabeth Seaport. Several of us quickly secured the perimeter of the U.S. Customs office building as the Twin Towers eventually collapsed in front of our eyes. It was at that moment that one of my colleagues, looked at me and said, “This job will never be the same again!” He could not have been anymore prophetic on that day.

C-TPAP Introductory Video (source:

Since 9/11, we have seen the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and with it, the reorganization of several federal agencies which now fall under DHS, such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The role of the U.S. Customs Service, now CBP, has changed in many ways through several global initiatives that were in direct response to the events on 9/11 and the threats posed by terrorist groups. One of the most successful programs to emerge is the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). C-TPAT is a voluntary supply chain security program led by CBP and focused on improving the security of private companies’ international supply chains. A supply chain is a system of organizations, people, activities, information, and resources involved in moving a product or service from supplier to customer. Some supply chains are more complex than others. Like any chain, a supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link and therefore, with the threat of terrorists gaining access to international supply chains to move weapons, people or finances, it is critical to maximize the security processes of all the actors within a chain.

C-TPAT was launched in November 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, with seven initial participants and has since grown to include more than 11,000 companies representing over 50 percent of all U.S. imports by value. Today, C-TPAT is part of a group of over 60 “Authorized Economic Operator” (AEO) programs around the world. AEOs are involved in the international movement of goods and comprise a diverse group of manufacturers, importers, exporters, brokers, carriers, consolidators, intermediaries, ports, airports, terminal operators, integrated operators, warehouses and distributors.

The C-TPAT program and its concept of public-private partnership to enhance supply chain security, gained global recognition through the World Customs Organization’s (WCO) SAFE Framework of Standards’ program, which was a key step in C-TPAT achieving mutual recognition with other countries and their respective AEO regimes.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner David V. Aguilar and European Union Taxation and Customs Union Directorate-General Heinz Zourek sign the Mutual Recognition Decision between CBP’s Custom’s Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program and the EU’s Authorized Economic Operator Program (Photo Credit: Jim Tourtellotte)

Probably, the greatest example of such mutual recognition is the decision signed between the United States and the EU on May 4, 2012, which provides the potential for nearly 20,000 U.S. and EU companies to receive facilitation benefits, due to their compliance with supply chain security requirements. Some of these benefits include: reduced number of Customs examinations, “front of the line” inspections in the event that an examination must take place, shorter wait times at the border, and business resumption priority following a terrorist attack. These companies represent trusted private sector partners whose shipments can be processed with minimal or no Customs inspections, which allows Customs authorities to focus their limited resources on higher risk shipments like those that may be suspicious of having links to terrorism. But, the partnership runs deeper than simply the formal exchange of information for facilitation benefits. Through regular dialogue, Customs officials and company representatives, share updated information related to corporate changes, training, threats, trends, etc. Furthermore, the trans-Atlantic partnership between U.S. and EU Customs officials promotes active communication on the same issues. U.S. and EU Customs officials continually monitor the programs and regularly observe each other’s activities to ensure effectiveness as well as to share best practices. This positive government-to-government communication has also blossomed into additional coordination in such areas as air cargo security.

READ CBP Press Release (May 4, 2012): CBP, EU Sign C-TPAT Mutual Recognition Decision

People often don’t realize the importance of international supply chains and how dependent upon them we all are. Almost every product in our daily lives comes through a supply chain. The safety and security of supply chains is critical to ensure public health, safety, and security. Furthermore, the efficiency at which goods move through supply chains impacts pricing and national economic growth. Terrorists are not just focused on killing people , but want to inflict severe economic harm as well. After 9/11, U.S. borders were closed for several days. This meant, among other things, that no goods could enter or leave the country. The economic impact was immediately felt. For example, the North American automotive industry had to slow down or even stop production at several assembly plants because they could not get the components they needed. The progressive concept created under the C-TPAT and similar efforts continues to improve the security of international supply chains. In the CBP context, C-TPAT is just one program of several which make up CBP’s layered enforcement strategy. CBP “exists to safeguard America’s borders thereby protecting the public from dangerous people and materials while enhancing the Nation’s global economic competitiveness by enabling legitimate trade and travel.”


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