Interview with Acting Commissioner McAleenan

*This is the second entry in our EC 2017 Trade Symposium Series. Our first entry discussed the opening remarks and missions priorities as set out by Executive Assistant Commissioner, Brenda Smith.


​U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner, Kevin McAleenan, was interviewed by Geoff Powell, President of the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America (NCBFAA).

The Acting Commissioner discussed the need to make additional progress on the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (TFTEA) provisions and consider future phases of trade facilitation efforts beyond completion of the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) and the Trusted Trader program currently in development.

When asked what keeps him up at night with respect to CBP’s trade mission, McAleenan responded air cargo attacks via explosives in small packages and the illegal shipment of dangerous opioids, including fentanyl through the mail; which are both significant problems associated with e-commerce.

He also referenced the need for continuity and maintenance of technology services, such as ACE that facilitate trade, as well as hiring a sufficient number of CBP Officers as two key mission support services need to support trade processing operations.

E-Commerce Challenges

Regarding CBP’s challenges with processing small shipments of e-commerce packages, McAleenan called it “the biggest shift in decades”. More advance data is needed to manage risk on air cargo, particularly shipments via the U.S. Postal Service, and better scanning and detection of harmful substances, particularly fentanyl would be a critical tool for CBP to have if technology manufacturers are able to develop it. The Commercial Operations Advisory Committee (COAC), a group of trade industry members authorized to advise CBP on relevant policies, has formed a working group to help CBP formulate a strategy for handling e-commerce challenges.

Automated Commercial Environment (ACE)

Regarding ACE, the Acting Commissioner stated that core functionality should be completed in February 2018. Beyond that, the Border Interagency Executive Council (BIEC), of which CBP is a lead member, would work with other Participating Government Agencies (PGAs) to help continue to build the U.S. Single Window (aka the International Trade Data System), of which ACE serves as the backbone.

Regarding other future initiatives, McAleenan discussed:

  •  Unified Cargo Processing (UCP), where inspections- primarily in the rail and truck land border environment- are conducted simultaneously or jointly by U.S. CBP Officers and their Mexican or Canadian counterparts. He referenced 11 such projects currently underway on the U.S./Mexico border and plans to expand UCP operations to the Northern Border.
    • He noted momentum on binational initiatives was being gained in working with Mexico and Canada. He credited Field locations with having spearheaded many of these initiatives themselves.
  • Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) centralized image processing– sometimes referred to as ‘common viewer’- where NII images of containers or conveyances can be shared across multiple locations for enhanced adjudication.
  • Aqua Lanes: Which allow ships to begin unloading earlier than they typically have been, which could save the industry hundreds of millions of dollars in 2018.
  • Refined Radiation Portal Monitors (RPMs): CBP is rebuilding the RPM algorithms to reduce the number of false positive alarms.

Combating Forced Labor

On the issue of keeping products made with forced labor from being imported into the U.S., Mr. Powell noted this was an especially challenging area for CBP to balance enforcement and facilitation as the agency tries to serve the interests of forced labor victims and responsible manufacturers simultaneously. Enforcing against the importation of forced labor products is a key provision of the TFTEA.

A key problem for importers in identifying forced labor goods in their supply chain is that the violations are usually occurring with the tier 2, 3, or 4 suppliers and not the primary manufacturer that they interact with. McAleenan noted that the trade community and CBP need intelligence deeper into the supply chain overseas to identify where these violations are occurring.  CBP has begun to issue withholding orders on certain goods since the TFTEA went into place, and expects importers to police their supply chains to keep forced labor goods out. 

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