Representatives from all three North American nations joined a panel, facilitated by CBP, Acting Assistant Commissioner for International Affairs, Ian Saunders, to discuss the benefits and expansion of Unified Cargo Processing (UCP) initiatives at U.S. land borders. By having authorities from both sides of the border conducting their respective inspections jointly in one location, UCP eliminates the need for a duplicative inspection on the other side of the border, saving time and money to the trade industry and border authorities. There was general agreement that UCP initiatives had largely been advanced through cooperation by U.S. and Mexican border authorities on the ground, rather than at a headquarters level.
While UCP is further along at more sites along the U.S./Mexico border, in November 2017, U.S. CBP signed an agreement with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to initiate future UCP sites along the U.S./Canada border. This would be beyond the existing cargo preclearance sites already established.
Jose Garcia, Representative for Taxation and Customs Affairs at the Embassy of Mexico in Washington D.C., provided a brief history of the U.S./Mexico UCP program; from conceptual agreement in 2012/2013, to signed agreement in 2014, to the launch of the UCP operation at the Laredo Airport in 2015-16, and the addition of sites across California, Arizona, and Texas through 2017, to include a rail cargo operation in Laredo. More sites are planned for 2018 and beyond. Garcia explained that the preference is to provide benefits to “Trusted Traders” and other highly compliant shippers first and then expand.
Guadalupe Ramirez, Assistant Director of Field Operations for CBP in Tucson, discussed UCP operations in his Field Office. He stated that in some areas with limited space, preclearance operations were not possible. UCP had been saving companies time and money through reduced inspections. He referenced one trucking company that was saving $100,000/month via UCP. The Port of Nogales, AZ currently has northbound operations and is looking to expand to southbound.
He discussed challenges that needed to be overcome in UCP operations, including; adequate physical space, operable wi-fi, coordinating and in some cases, training with foreign authorities on compliance issues, and executing it all without additional Officers or resources. In the future, he stated CBP would like to further integrate non-intrusive inspection operations at speed without unloading the driver.
Mike Leahy, from the CBSA, discussed potential efficiency-building operations that could be implemented for cargo moving between the U.S. and Canada; including earlier interdiction of cargo presenting risk, additional preclearance and UCP sites for truck and rail cargo.
During the Question & Answer portion, the panelists raised additional points, such as:
- The need to integrate Trusted Trader elements into the UCP operation, such as Fast Lanes.
- Expanding automation at ports through additional RFID-enabled verifications.
- The need to integrate Partner Government Agencies (PGAs), beyond Customs, into the UCP process, in order to further reduce the number of inspections.
- The need for harmonization in rail manifests between all three countries for cross-border trains.