Protecting ports requires help from other countries

Posted: Thursday, November 14, 2002

U.S. efforts to make our ports less vulnerable to terrorists don't begin and end along our own coastline. We also need the cooperation of foreign countries where U.S.-bound cargo originates.

The fear that a terrorist group could smuggle a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon into this country through one of our 361 ports is a reasonable one, since 6 million containers are shipped to the United States each year, and only about 2 percent are physically inspected.

That's why the Bush administration has made agreements with eight countries in Europe and Asia that will allow U.S. Customs officers to inspect selected cargo containers before they come here.

Unfortunately, the European Union has raised objections to that strategy and is even threatening to punish those countries that have entered into agreements with the United States.

EU officials are miffed that the United States didn't come to them with a plan that would encompass all of Europe. They're concerned that screening procedures will bog down shipping and increase costs. And they think that smaller countries that can't or won't sign on to an agreement with the United States will be put at an economic disadvantage compared with those that do cooperate.

While some of those issues deserve attention, the fact that the EU feels slighted does not. The United States had a perfectly valid reason for working with countries on an individual basis -- it is far more expedient.

-- The Times-Picayune, New Orleans

Nov. 11

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