Copyright @ 2003 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.
The Straits Times
November 17, 2003
Draw on business expertise to fight terror
By Maria Livanos Cattaui for The Straits Times
BUSINESS and governments should work together far more closely to shield commercial cargoes from international terrorism. They share a common aim - to build a protective system that is achievable, effective and affordable.
Mass disruption of the movement of goods across borders in the name of security cannot be the answer to the threat of mass destruction. If inspectors had to open every container, legitimate trade would grind to a halt with devastating economic consequences.
The biggest sufferers from indiscriminate application of security measures are the developing countries, which fear being edged out of the world economy because they lack the technical and administrative resources to meet new requirements.
The trick is to direct scrutiny to points of greatest risk rather than flailing about indiscriminately. No easy task, but one in which business is already making its contribution and is eager to do much more.
A public-private partnership that deserves to be adopted worldwide has been in place since 1996, when business and customs services in the United States formed the Business Anti-Smuggling Coalition (BASC).
From modest beginnings, BASC now covers seven other countries, all of them in Latin America. A World BASC Organisation was established last year with the support of the World Customs Organisation and the International Chamber of Commerce.
Some 1,000 corporate participants impose voluntary standards governing packing and shipping and accept responsibility for preventing criminal abuse of their consignments. Originally formed to suppress narcotics smuggling, BASC now also targets terrorist attempts to infiltrate legitimate cargo.
BASC companies are periodically audited and provide warrants that their products and services are produced and delivered under strict security controls and monitored at every stage of transport.
Participating companies in BASC have proved that they are fully capable of effective and secure self-regulation to the highest customs requirements.
MORE EFFICIENT CHECKS
IN SEEKING to be a more active partner of governments in the security response to terrorism rather than a cheerleader on the sidelines, business is not trying to assume the role of policemen. That is the last thing any company wants.
Private companies and their employees are among the most obvious potential targets of terrorism. They are in the front line and cannot wait passively in the hope that law enforcement agencies will be able to protect them.
Business expertise - and the business presence on the ground - can increase the security of goods crossing borders in many ways. The scope for new technology alone is enormous. Business could speed up deployment of smart containers able to detect suspect materials and the introduction of electronic container seals. Non-intrusive inspection techniques introduced with business cooperation would make border checks faster and more efficient.
One example is the Shiploc satellite tracking device, an effective weapon to thwart piracy and terrorist attempts to hijack ships at sea promoted by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a division of the International Chamber of Commerce. Shiploc gives owners the precise location of their ships at any time, making it harder for terrorists to seize a ship undetected and steer it towards a selected target.
Such precautions are badly needed. Only last month, the IMB reported a spate of attacks against small tankers in the Malacca Straits between Indonesia and Malaysia and said vessels in these crowded waters are especially vulnerable to hijacking by politically motivated pirates.
HOW BUSINESS CAN HELP
BUSINESS has every justification for insisting on a far stronger role in the public-private partnership against terrorism. Most people work and play in non-public spaces. The private sector owns and operates much of the world's critical infrastructure. Business feeds, operates and protects the international supply chain - its own vital artery.
Security clampdowns could be carried out with greater precision if more reliance was placed on the techniques of sophisticated cost-benefit analysis - a skill in which business has expertise that governments would be wise to draw upon.
Automated risk assessment is one more way in which business could help law enforcement agencies. By relying on compliance records and established commercial reputation, customs and security officers can be spared the task of searching for terrorist needles in the haystack of consignments passing through a port every day.
To be fair, the United States, its main allies and international bodies like the World Customs Organisation have taken great care to keep business in the loop as they pile up security regulations and requirements in the long aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Consultation is not enough. So far, governments have failed to strike a balance between security imperatives and their inevitable cost and there is still insufficient international coordination.
All opportunities available to improve security with the help of business have yet to be seized upon, an oversight that should be remedied without delay.
The writer is secretary-general of the Brussels-based International Chamber of Commerce. An international security conference takes place in Brussels today examining the different security threats and national responses.