Companies importing goods to the U.S. can greatly benefit from being a member of CTPAT, or Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism. To become a member of CTPAT, the applicant must demonstrate that they meet the program’s security criteria, and obtain CTPAT certification. This article explains what CTPAT is, how a company becomes CTPAT certified, and how being a CTPAT member benefits your business.
CTPAT is a public-private sector partnership program aimed at strengthening international supply chains and improving U.S. border security. Established in 2001, CTPAT has continuously grown and evolved to better its objectives. The program’s statutory framework and oversight requirements are based on the Security and Accountability for Every Port Act of 2006. When an organization joins CTPAT, they make an agreement to work with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to:
protect the supply chain
identify security gaps
implement specific security measures and best practices.
What is the Purpose of CTPAT? At the center of CTPAT is the idea of close cooperation between the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and key players of the international supply chain (such as importers, carriers, manufacturers, carriers, licensed customs brokers and freight consolidators). Because the CBP cannot directly control international supply chains, working with a variety of private sector companies through CTPAT enables it to provide a higher level of cargo security. Thus, the main purpose of CTPAT is to facilitate the movement and security of international trade through cooperation between the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and members of the international trade community. And with nearly 25 million product containers arriving in the U.S. every year by land, air, and sea, the importance of such cooperation cannot be overstated.
What companies can be CTPAT members? From seven initial participants in 2011, CTPAT has grown to over 11,400 certified partners today. Jointly, these companies account for over 52% of cargo (by value) imported into the U.S. and include:
U.S./Canada highway carriers
U.S./Mexico highway carriers
Rail and sea carriers
Licensed U.S. Customs brokers
U.S. marine port authority/terminal operators
U.S. freight consolidators
Ocean transportation intermediaries and non‐operating common carriers
Mexican and Canadian manufacturers
Mexican long‐haul carriers
Participation in CTPAT is voluntary and free of charge. Membership in CTPAT is open to organizations that can demonstrate excellence in supply chain security practices and who have had no significant security related events. Certified CTPAT members are considered to be of low risk, and are less likely to be examined at a U.S. port of entry.
Is there a difference between CTPAT certification and CTPAT membership? No, the difference is only in the phrasing. While CTPAT is a partnership of member organizations, not a “certification program” in the strict sense of the term, the phrase “CTPAT certification” is commonly used to describe the process of acquiring membership in CTPAT. A company that participates in CTPAT, can be referred to as “CTPAT member”, “CTPAT partner” or “CTPAT certified”. All of these definitions carry the same meaning.
What is the CTPAT certification process? In order to get certified by CTPAT, a company should follow the steps as described below:
Review the CTPAT Minimum Security Criteria to determine their organization’s eligibility for the program. Note that different eligibility requirements apply for different business types: so make sure to choose your type of business from the list.
Submit a basic application via the CTPAT Portal system
Complete a supply chain security profile explaining how your company is meeting CTPAT’s minimum security criteria. Note that in order to do this, you need to have already completed a risk assessment: independently, or through a CTPAT audit provided by a qualified third party.
After you complete the application and supply chain security profile, a CTPAT Supply Chain Security Specialist will review your submission and issue a decision on it within 90 days. It is also important to note that upon successful certification, your company will need to undergo CTPAT validation within one year. This process involves a review of your company’s supply chain security procedures, and is conducted by a team consisting of your company’s representatives and CTPAT Supply Chain Security Specialists. The validation process can involve one or multiple validation visits. How is risk assessment conducted? A risk assessment is required as part of the application to join CTPAT, and should be conducted at least annually afterwards (more often for businesses and supply chains deemed to be at higher risk). The CBP’s official guide to the CTPAT risk assessment process lists five key steps:
Mapping cargo/data flow and control, which includes identifying business partners (whether directly or indirectly involved) and how cargo moves throughout the supply chain (including countries of origin, transit points, and modes of transportation)
An assessment and ranking of threats with a focus on terrorism, contraband, human trafficking, argicultural and public safety threats, organized crime, and any conditions in the countries/regions in your supply chain that may foster such threats
A vulnerability assessment conducted in accordance with the CTPAT Minimum Security Criteria, which includes identifying what aspects of your supply chain a terrorist or criminal might want to gain access to (this can be data, cargo, company information, etc.), and then identifying weaknesses in your company procedures that would allow such unauthorized access.
A written action plan to address vulnerabilities, including mechanisms to record identified weaknesses, parties responsible for addressing the issues, and deadlines for actions, with subsequent follow-up and reporting.
Documenting the procedure for how risk assessment is conducted, including regular reviews and revisions (at least annually).
While there is nothing stopping you from carrying out the risk assessment independently, the process can be very complicated and time-consuming, especially for companies with international supply chains. This is why many businesses that are working towards CTPAT membership choose to engage the services of third-party providers with experience in CTPAT standards. A CTPAT supply chain audit provides you with objective information about the state of your supply chain security, which is instrumental for completing your risk assessment. A professional specializing in CTPAT compliance can also work with you to help your company address the vulnerabilities in your supply chain in order to meet CTPAT standards.
When you participate in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT), you are joining an alliance of more than 11,400 trade partners. It is a great opportunity to secure your own supply chain while also helping the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the fight against terrorism and towards safe and secure global trade. Membership in CTPAT can make a real difference for your imports into the United States offers, through such incentives as:
Reduced number of CBP examinations: shipments by CTPAT certified importers are assigned a lower risk value compared to non-CTPAT, which reduces the likelihood of customs inspection, translating to reduced fees and higher speed to market
Front of the line privileges: even if your shipment is selected for customs inspection, the process is faster, and your containers can be moved ahead of non-CTPAT shipments
Priority inspections following emergencies: in case the port of entry is closed due to a national disaster or a terrorist attack, shipments of CTPAT members will have priority access upon reopening
Access to Free and Secure Trade (FAST) lanes: allowing for faster clearance through the U.S. land border with Mexico and Canada
In addition to the above, CTPAT members can benefit from:
Being recognized as a Trusted Partner by foreign customs administrations
Access to the CTPAT library of training materials
Eligibility for other U.S. government pilot programs
A network of CTPAT certified partners
Increased competitiveness and reputation as a business with a secure supply chain
In summary, participation in CTPAT is a win-win, as it makes your own supply chain more secure, predictable and cost-effective, while also helping the security of trade globally.
No matter where your supply chain extends to, a QIMA auditor can be on-site within 48 hours to perform a CTPAT audit that will provide you with accurate and comprehensive information for your CTPAT risk assessment. QIMA auditors have in-depth and up-to-date knowledge of CTPAT compliance requirements. At the outcome of the audit, we provide you with a detailed report that provides an overall assessment of your supply chain’s security strengths and vulnerabilities, including specific findings and a corrective action plan. Upon request, QIMA experts will work with you on specific areas of your supply chain security to help you meet CTPAT requirements and improve your supply chain. Easily schedule your CTPAT audit through our online platform, or contact us to find out more.