July 30 - Earlier this week, a bill was presented to the US Senate that would amend current legislation on mandatory scanning of US container imports at origin to make the requirements more workable.

The bill includes changes that would relax container scanning requirements and delay the implementation deadline to 2015.

There has been considerable pressure to amend or even scrap the rule because of the enormous costs that fully implementing it would entail and because of doubts over whether it really is an effective way to prevent weapons of mass destruction being smuggled into the US.

EU officials are tentatively confident that the discussion is moving in a positive direction but are remaining vigilant, keenly aware it will be difficult politically for the US Congress to formally repeal this statutory
requirement, enacted in 2007 as part of the US' response to the 11 September 2001 attacks. The rule has long been a thorn in the side of the EU, which has persistently warned it will cripple trade without enhancing security.

US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a US Senate hearing, in December 2009, that she intended to extend the implementation deadline from July 2012 to July 2014, which the 2007 law grants her the authority to do. She said efforts to implement the rule in foreign ports had "encountered a number of serious challenges". Many ports would have to be completely redesigned to meet the requirement; no technology had been developed yet that enables suspicious anomalies to be automatically detected; and installing the equipment would cost USD8 million per lane, with 2,100 lanes potentially needed. Napolitano advocated a "layered, risk-based" approach to container security instead.

This includes the 10+2 rule the US administration began enforcing on 29 January, which requires importers and carriers to supply the administration with additional information on US-bound cargo shipments before they arrive in the US. It also includes the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), under which traders commit to tighten security when packing and shipping containers, and the CSI programme, under which US Customs officials are stationed at foreign ports.

While recent developments may seem positive from an EU viewpoint, there is no guarantee the rule will be amended. Many Democrats, the majority party in both House and Senate, are attached to the principle of 100canning. In the aftermath of the 25 December 2009 airline bombing attempt in Detroit and in the run-up to the November 2010 congressional elections, there is likely to be stiff opposition to scrapping the rule entirely as the EU would like. Instead, lawmakers and the administration may soften it up somewhat by extending deadlines and reducing its scope.