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Update On C-TPAT Developments

March 4, 2003

Developments and forthcoming benefits of the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism ("C-TPAT") were recently discussed by a C-TPAT Customs official in a recent teleconference with the International Law and Practice Section of the American Bar Association. A Senior Inspector Program Officer of C-TPAT, at U.S. Customs Headquarters indicated that in 2003, Customs would start delivering more of the benefits promised from C-TPAT membership. These include, among others, fewer exams, participation in FAST, training sessions offered by Customs, the assignment of an account manager, and the benefits of ACE. The first training seminar has been scheduled for April 21-24, 2003, in Miami, and is open only to C-TPAT members.

The C-TPAT Process

A frequently asked question involved the process of enrolling. The senior program official explained that (1) the company signs a Memorandum Of Understanding ("MOU"). At this point, the company is considered a C-TPAT "partner" by Customs (which means that there is a mutual understanding of intent). The company then (2) completes and submits the C-TPAT Questionnaire, which describes in executive format the company's physical plant and personnel security programs, and any security requirements imposed upon its suppliers. The program official noted that the goal of Customs is to provide a response within 60 days. Customs then (3) reviews (or "vets") the adequacy of the company's questionnaire response. According to the program official, the most common problem with applications results from inadequate information. If the security procedures outlined by the company are wholly inadequate, Customs may decline to allow the company into the program. A company denied access to C-TPAT is not banned from re-applying, and Customs will continue to work with the company.

If Customs is satisfied with the adequacy of the company's response, the company (4) is accepted as a "certified" member of C-TPAT. However, Customs may choose to make certification contingent on the implementation of certain security changes.

At an earlier conference, the Director of the C-TPAT program indicated that one of the most important, and most often overlooked, aspects in the C-TPAT applications are provisions for self-policing and record retention. The senior official explained that such procedures are a requirement of the C-TPAT, and that each certification letter from Customs will include language requiring the importer to summarize and to implement such a self-policing plan.

The key aspects of such a self-policing plan are ensuring that security programs are actually implemented, adequately conveying security requirements to providers in the supply chain, and maintaining records of the compliance of such providers.

Finally, the senior official noted that Customs has now (5) initiated its first verification audits. The purpose of the audits are to confirm (a) that the information in the questionnaire is accurate, and (b) that self-policing, communication, and record retention security initiatives are actually being undertaken.

Customs is currently training ten new C-TPAT specialists at headquarters, whose function will be to make the validation visits to the importers. Although the field visits are to involve only C-TPAT and not other Customs issues, several participants in the call expressed concern over what appeared to be overreaching on the part of the inspectors into areas beyond validation of the information in the questionnaire.

New Ideas & Efforts

The senior official also noted the following:

  • An effort may be made by Customs to set up a security template with various trade associations. Under this proposal, if an association has a C-TPAT security template, an importer belonging to that association can obtain the benefits of C-TPAT, if the company can demonstrate that it works within the security template of that association.

  • It was important to integrate other government agencies into the C-TPAT program. Customs doesn't want to be in the situation where it is making fewer exams of C-TPAT members, but other agencies, such as the FDA, are not.

C-TPAT Benefits

Separate from the teleconference call, another Customs official at a major port has indicated that once a company has become a C-TPAT member, absent fraud, the company's shipments will no longer be subject to discretionary examinations. Also, if the C-TPAT member is subject to a stratified intensive exam, then the exams for the C-TPAT members will have priority over those of non-C-TPAT members.

Customs C-TPAT Recruitment Efforts

Importers and brokers should be aware that a number of the Customs ports have been issuing CF 28's on individual entries, asking questions on security topics that are identical to those in the C-TPAT questionnaire. The C-TPAT official speaking in the teleconference call was unaware of the use of CF 28's by the ports. It has been indicated that these responses are being used in a survey being conducted relating to the existing supply chain procedures being followed by companies. In the San Francisco area, we are aware of many importers who have received these types of CF 28's with respect to individual imports.

In our newsletter of November 26 2002 we reviewed the responses by importer to these CF 28's, as well as related information.

The Law Office of George R Tuttle is a law firm that specializes in customs, tariffs, and international trade law. As part of our practice, we advise importers, customs brokers and transportation companies with regard to becoming members of C-TPAT.

If you have any questions on the issues raised in this newsletter or wish any other information on the process of becoming a C-TPAT member, please contact Steve Spraitzar at (415) 288-0427 or via email at or George Tuttle at (415) 288 0425 or via email at


Stephen Spraitzar and George Tuttle are attorneys with the Law Offices of George R. Tuttle in San Francisco. The information in this article is general in nature and is not intended to constitute legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship with respect to any event or occurrence, and may not be considered such.

Copyright 2003 by Tuttle Law Offices.

All rights reserved. Information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. However, because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by our offices or by others, we do not guarantee the accuracy, adequacy, or completeness of any information and are not responsible for any errors, omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of such information.


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