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The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) is a joint effort between the United States government and businesses involved in importing goods into the United States. It is part of the ever evolving nature of the United States Customs, and recognizes that border security will be much more efficient if US Customs involves businesses in the process of securing and inspecting cargo. Membership in the partnership is available to most businesses who import goods into the United States, including freight carriers, brokers, manufacturers, and importers, as long as they agree to the guidelines of membership.
If a business is interested in joining C-TPAT, it first fills out an application that includes information about the business, an agreement to participate, and a profile of their supply chain, which includes a validation of the way in which goods are handled. Examining the supply chain involves looking at procedural, physical, and personnel security, along with access controls, how packing manifests are handled, and what sort of education and training employees receive. If the application of the business to join the group is approved, it is assigned a Supply Chain Security Specialist who evaluates the supply chain and provides suggestions for improvement before certifying the business as a member.
In addition to helping the United States fight terrorism, membership also carries many more tangible benefits. Members are less subject to customs inspections and will be routed to the front of customs lines when they do need to be inspected. They can also take advantage of C-TPAT trainings for themselves and their employees, to learn about more ways to tighten the security of their supply chain. If routine inspection reveals non-compliance, membership is revoked and the company must re-certify.
Becoming compliant does take work, but the guidelines were developed as a joint effort between US Customs and business organizations, which makes many businesses feel more comfortable about joining the partnership. While some expenses may be involved to secure the supply chain, most businesses agree that the expedited processing they receive as members is worth the initial outlay of money and time to get all employees compliant with systems. In addition, tightening supply chain security often increases supply chain efficiency, saving money for the business in the long term.
Membership is not mandatory for any business, although most large companies have joined because of the advantages it confers. For businesses in Canada and Mexico, participation in the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program requires that the company's supply chain be C-TPAT certified. The United States has also signed Mutual Recognition arrangements with several countries, which means that they have agreed to common security requirement standards, so the validation of a company in one country is recognized in the other.