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Customs - Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT)

In response to the threat to our Nation's Ports and supply-chains being used as conduits for terrorists and their weapons, U.S. Customs & Border Protection offers a voluntary supply-chain security program for importers, brokers, carriers, and other eligible entities. The program, referred to as the "Customs - Trade Partnership Against Terrorism" or C-TPAT, recognizes that in order to improve, protect, and strengthen the cargo supply chain, the involvement of all members of the trading community is required.

To participate, importers, brokers, carriers, and other eligible entities must submit a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), and complete a Supply Chain Security Profile Questionnaire. 

For a self-guided tour of the C-TPAT program and what it takes to become a partner, go to the C-TPAT page on CBP's website.

Benefits Of Participation

According to Customs, the chief benefits of participation in C-TPAT are:   

  • Eligibility for participation in special programs, such as:
  • Importer Self-Assessment Program (ISA) and removal from audit pools;
  • Participation in Customs' new Automated Commercial Environment (ACE);
  • Account-based bimonthly/monthly payments;
  • FAST program on the US/Canada and US/Mexico borders;
  • A reduced number of inspections (reduced border times);
  • An assigned account manager;
  • Access to the C-TPAT membership list;

More importantly perhaps, participants avoid the possible consequences if they do not participate, such as increased chances for:

  • Greater scrutiny of cargo;
  • Added examinations;
  • Requests for information;
  • No guarantees for cargo processing times; and
  • Increased reviews and audits.

Most notably, at a recent COAC meeting CBP officials provided statistics showing that certified C-TPAT participants are 3-5 times less likely to be examined for trade or compliance reasons, and 5-8 times less likely to be examined for enforcement reasons.

While the benefits of C-TPAT are obviously great for large companies that rely heavily on international supply chains, C-TPAT is flexible enough to work for the entire trade community, regardless of company size.  

Thus far, C-TPAT is available to the following members of the trade community:

  • Importers
  • Air, Rail, Sea, and Truck Carriers
  • Brokers
  • Air Freight Consolidators
  • Ocean Transportation Intermediaries
  • Non-vessel Operating Common Carriers
  • Port Authorities
  • Terminal Operators
  • Warehouse Operators and
  • Selected Foreign Manufacturers.

C-TPAT requirements are tailored to the needs of each company, so that the package of C-TPAT benefits can be different for each participant.

Participation And Levels Of Commitment

Participation in C-TPAT requires participants to sign an agreement acknowledging that the recommendations and guidelines offered in the C-TPAT program reflect the mutual understanding of the Importer and Customs as to what constitutes the basic elements of sound supply chain security.

Following the submission of the Supply Chain Security questionnaire, Customs Account managers may contact applicants to discuss establishing "action plans" to track their progress in making security improvements, communicating C-TPAT guidelines to business partners, and establishing improved security relationships with other companies.

Should a company choose not to adopt action plan recommendations, as specified by Customs, the applicant may choose to voluntarily remove itself from the program, or Customs may choose to suspend or remove the company from the C-TPAT program.

Companies Should Plan and Assess Security
Prior to Applying for C-TPAT

C-TPAT is intended to be an inexpensive, flexible program, tailored to the needs and resources of the applicant. Neither applying for nor participation in the program requires vast amounts of resources. With this said, however, Importers should be aware that those who do not currently have written security plans or policies may, in Customs' view, present a security risk. Customs may refuse to admit such a company into the C-TPAT program; or, it may choose to offer decreased benefits, or recommend extensive security improvements before granting C-TPAT benefits.

Companies that have not yet conducted a Security Self-Assessment may wish to defer participation in C-TPAT until they are able to implement corrective measures, including a written security plan, an implementation plan, and a written policy in regard to new and existing suppliers and service providers.

Even those importers who feel confident in having "secure" supply chains should take care in assessing and describing security measures on the questionnaire. Such precautions increase the company's chances of obtaining maximum import clearance benefits under the program.

In order to obtain maximum C-TPAT benefits as quickly as possible, and to minimize supply chain disruption, importers should seek outside assistance in conducting the security self-assessment and in completing the questionnaire responses. Of course, all companies are advised to review the questionnaire with outside counsel prior to submission to Customs. 

How To Apply

Participation in C-TPAT requires the filing of a formal agreement that commits the applicant to undertake the following:

  • Conduct a comprehensive assessment of supply chain security using C-TPAT security guidelines developed by Customs and the trade community;
  • Complete and submit a response to Customs of the supply chain security questionnaire;
  • Develop and implement a program to enhance security throughout the supply chain in accordance with C-TPAT guidelines; and
  • Communicate C-TPAT guidelines to other companies in the supply chain, and work toward building the guidelines into relationships with these companies.

The process starts with the submission of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This document must be signed by importers in order to participate in the C-TPAT. The MOU has been published on Customs' website, along with a set of proposed security recommendations for importers. 

In the MOU, participants agree to implement the Security Recommendations issued by Customs, which contain detailed suggestions for establishing, improving, or amending security procedures along the entire supply chain. Customs states that each set of recommendations applies to a specific segment of the import chain such as a carrier, broker, importer, or warehouse, and is meant to serve only as a guide, and not as an established standard. As the C-TPAT evolves, the recommendations may be adjusted. MOU's for other members of the supply chain (manufacturers, freight forwarders, carriers, etc.) are still under development.

Following submission of the MOU, applicants have about 30 days to complete and submit a response to the Supply Chain Security Profile Questionnaire. Customs requests that two original signed agreements, along with contact information (on a separate cover), be mailed to Customs Headquarters. The Supply Chain Security Profile Questionnaire should be sent with an electronic copy on a 3.5" floppy disk or CD-ROM to Customs Headquarters, and e-mail an additional copy to Customs at: (include in the subject line the company name and "Security Questionnaire").

Customs will, within 60 days, review the importer's response to the supply chain security profile questionnaire and, if accepted, the importer will receive the C-TPAT importer participation agreement, signed by the Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations, along with feedback on their application.   

Additional Information and Further Reading

About George R. Tuttle Law Offices

Our firm specializes in Customs and International Trade matters, including Customs audits, focused assessments, and trade compliance programs. Importers interested in gaining the benefits of C-TPAT participation may contact: George R. Tuttle, III. at (415) 986-8780, via e-mail at, or Stephen Spraitzar at

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