Inscrutable Scrutiny

The World Shipping Council, whose member liner shipping companies carry more than 90 % of the world’s containerized cargo, went on record as stating that H.R. 1 was “opposed by virtually all elements of the global trading system. The bill,” the council stated, “is not only unworkable, but Congress failed to even try to address the fundamentally critical questions about how such a system would actually operate.

“Roughly $ 500 billion of annual American commerce is affected by this law,” the group said. “What is clear is that this issue deserved a more open process of analysis and debate, that other governments resent the unilateral dictates and hypocrisy in the law, and that there are over 600 ports around the world trying to figure out what this legislation means.

“To the extent a vision for 100 percent container scanning of containers on a global basis is to be moved forward, it will require a more open, consultative examination of the real world issues involved than what transpired in the debate and enactment of H.R. 1,” the council said.

The council said the bill fails to:
• Take into consideration pilot cargo screening programs conducted by the DHS.
• Define who is to scan cargo.
• Define who is to purchase, operate and maintain scanners.
• Address health and safety issues relating to the equipment.
• Seek cooperation of other governments.
• Consider demands for reciprocal screening by other nations.
• Define what adequate screening is.
• Address who is responsible for review and analysis of cargo screening.

The council noted that the law “grants the DHS discretion to extend the effective date of the requirement.

“It is presumably the ambiguity and flexibility of this language that has allowed the president to sign this legislation, as it might be used to extend these requirements, perhaps indefinitely, although that is not clear and could be arguable,” the council adds. “The ‘extension’ authority portion of the authority is unclear, but the administration would seem to have some ability to avoid application of the implementation date of the law.

“It is therefore odd, disconcerting, yet entirely predictable that this legislation produces both statements from members of Congress that the law will require 100 percent container scanning at foreign ports by 2012, and statements from other observers that the law is wholly impractical and thus it is unlikely to be applied because the U.S. government will not cut off its own commerce with countries that do not implement 100 percent container scanning before vessel loading.”

[Recess! Recess! That’s all Congress was thinking about when they unloaded this one.]