Seanad debates

Thursday, 11 March 2010

2:00 pm

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State with special responsibility for Integration and Community, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey.

There are currently no container vessels trading directly between Irish ports and the United States. Therefore, there are no direct costs for any ports in Ireland as a consequence of this legislation.

The United States legislation, Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, unilaterally introduced a 100% scanning requirement for US-bound containerised maritime cargo to be in place by 1 July 2012. The legislation requires that a container loaded on a vessel outside the United States shall not enter the United States, unless it is scanned by non-intrusive imaging equipment and radiation detection equipment before it is loaded on such a vessel.

Containerised traffic from Ireland, destined for the United States, is carried on so-called feeder vessels to other European ports where the containers are transferred to other vessels departing for the United States. These ports are directly affected by the legislation, as the containers would require to be scanned in the port before being loaded onto such vessels. The matter will be kept under review and any implications for Irish ports arising from the legislation, or any amendments to it, will be closely monitored by all the relevant Departments.

By way of providing further background information on the matter, the Minister can report that in April 2008 the European Commission, with support from EU member states and the business community, carried out a preliminary impact assessment of 100% scanning. This was sent to US Customs Border Protection, CBP, and included in the report of the Department of Homeland Security to the US Congress in June 2008. The paper pointed out that if 100% scanning was introduced in European ports, it would be excessively costly, unlikely to improve global security, would absorb resources currently allocated to EU security interests and disrupt trade and transport within the Union and worldwide. It advocated shifting the policy focus towards developing a package of measures to cope with the wide diversity of security risks and address supply chain security not only from a national perspective but also as a global and complex challenge. An alternative package is suggested by the European Union based on the principle that all exports and imports undergo comprehensive and effective multi-layered risk management processes using a range of methods and technologies commensurate with the risks associated with specific consignments and that no consignment should go unchecked.

In December 2009 the US Government Accountability Office issued a report on the requirement to scan 100% of US-bound containers. It noted that Customs and Border Protection had been unable to achieve 100% scanning at any of the limited number of participating foreign ports. The programme faces numerous challenges, including technology problems, high costs and opposition from some foreign governments. The report puts the cost of 100% container scanning as high as $1.6 billion, plus the increase in time for cargo to be processed.

On Wednesday 17 February the European Commission published a Commission staff working paper on secure trade and 100% scanning of containers. The paper reports the main conclusions of three studies on the impact on EU customs, transport and trade of the US legislation requiring 100% scanning at foreign ports of US-bound maritime containers conducted by DG's TAXUD, TREN and TRADE. The three studies confirm a negative impact of scanning all freight containers destined for the United States and predict higher costs without ensuring greater security. Notably, the investment required in the European Union to bring the EU customs industry into line with the US law is estimated at approximately €430 million. Extra operating costs for customs offices would total €200 million a year, while 2,200 extra staff would have to be recruited. The cost of sending a container from the Union to the United States would rise by approximately 10%. EU ports unable to adapt to the new US law would lose market share and there would be greater congestion in other ports. Total lost trade in the Union and the United States would be close to €10 million a year and as high as €17 billion at global level.

It is understood the Department of Homeland Security intends to issue a blanket two-year extension of the 2012 deadline as authorised by law.

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