As active members of the international trade community, we have to take issue with the March 31 story, “Trade Explosion Poses Security Risk.” To start with, the article characterized a recent successful interdiction of illegal goods as indicative of the U.S. Customs Service’s shortcomings. Any interception of contraband is positive. The story implies the interception in question was made accidentally, giving no consideration to the Customs Service’s experienced strategizing.

Customs has indeed developed highly sophisticated programs electronic and administrative which collectively offer a highly reliable detection system. The alternative, in the case of merchandise, is to open each sealed container, inspect it, and then reload and reseal it. Such intense inspections require numerous man hours and yet theydo occur, but only on selected containers.

Just as the U.S. Customs service cannot possibly inspect the luggage of each international traveler, it cannot inspect every incoming container. There are not enough Customs inspectors in California to scrutinize each import container entering the busy ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Full inspections of all container cargo would result in enormous delays in moving product to market and, consequently, higher prices at the retail level.

The content of most containers of imported goods goes to large retailers and manufacturers who have imposed strict security controls to inhibit smuggling. Additionally, the containers that leave the port complex by rail remain sealed until they reach their final destination. Once there, Customs has the opportunity to examine the container if they choose to do so. Frankly, a smuggler has a greater opportunity with export shipments because they are rarely subject to Customs’ inspections. The export of stolen high-priced cars is a problem, but not one affecting national security. The majority of national security cargo moves by air, due to its high value and light weight.

We do not wish to underestimate the security challenges posed by the growth in international commerce and travel, but we do oppose gross exaggerations of the issues as they relate to ocean shipping. Ideally, Customs’ interdiction program could benefit from more personnel. But the trend, unlikely to change for many years to come, has been a reduction in Customs’ personnel resources and an increased reliance upon automation and strategic profiling and targeting of high risk cargo origins shippers and products.


Executive Secretary


1st Vice President

Foreign Trade Assn. of Southern California

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