by | Aug 26, 2014 | Trade Policy

by Peter Quinter, guest columnist

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is holding its annual conference of the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) this week at the beautiful JW Marriott in San Antonio, Texas. You can click here for more information.

This year’s national conference is themed “C-TPAT: Partnering in Supply Chain Security and Facilitation for the 21st Century.”  I can’t help wondering if the questions I often hear from executives of companies engaged in international trade and logistics will be raised in this forum:  Is the time and expense of joining and maintaining membership worth it? Is there ROI in C-TPAT for its members?

For some , the answer is a definite yes – either because their companies’ participation has been directly or indirectly recommended by CBP, or they have been so advised by their customers. Some are persuaded that strengthening their companies’ international supply chains is a darn good idea, whether or not there is any deterrent effect upon potential terrorists.

But many others do not see clear benefits of C-TPAT membership for importers, ocean carriers, and customs brokers. As a “trusted trader,” one might expect expedited shipments, yet CBP has been reluctant to share data that establishes C-TPAT members’ cargoes are cleared any faster than those of non-members. C-TPAT members can still have their cargos examined and detained by CBP, or other Federal agencies. When a cargo is detained, often CBP provides no explanation for such examinations, which are costly both in terms of expense and delay.

Soon, US exporters will also have the opportunity to consider whether the gains justify the investment in a C-TPAT membership. Last month, CBP published the eligibility requirements for exporters to join an expanded C-TPAT. You can find them here.

CBP explains the program expansion: “As the C-TPAT program has continued its evolution, it has become apparent that exports also have an important role in international supply chains and while this sector is not as heavily owned by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the C-TPAT program, developing an export component for C-TPAT would further enhance both the program and its relationship with other mutually recognized Foreign Customs administrations.”  No date has been set for formally opening the program to exporters.

As C-TPAT members, exporters would be obliged to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment of their international supply chains against C-TPAT security criteria that are outlined in the eligibility requirements and include screening overseas business partners. The potential to improve security is clear … but will the added investment yield returns in trade facilitation?

I generally encourage companies that qualify to participate in C-TPAT, but I also recommend they first do a cost-benefit analysis.

For any questions about C-TPAT or dealing with CBP generally, contact me at:  [email protected] or (954) 270-1864.

Copyright © 2014 GrayRobinson

This column is includes material that originally appeared in the GrayRobinson Customs and International Law Blog, which is edited by Peter Quinter and covers a range of legal and regulatory issues related to trade. Subscribe at

About Peter Quinter

Peter Quinter, GrayRobinsonThe Datamyne Blog’s legal contributor is a shareholder in GrayRobinson’s Miami and Ft. Lauderdale offices, and chair of the firm’s Customs & International Trade Law Group. Appointed by the Secretary of Commerce to the Florida District Export Council, Quinter is a recognized expert in international and trade law, and has been listed in “Best Lawyers in America” in the area of FDA Law each year since 2009. Learn more about GrayRobinson here; learn more about Peter Quinter here.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of its author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views or Descartes Datamyne. In addition, this article is for general information purposes only and it’s not intended to provide legal advice or opinions of any kind and my not be used for professional or commercial purposes. No one should act, or refrain from acting, based solely on this article without first seeking appropriate legal or other professional advice.

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