The World Trade Center Charleston and the Maritime Association of South Carolina hosted a roundtable discussion today with Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.
During the discussion, the commissioner interacted with approximately 30 members of the business community who expressed their concerns, priorities and overall experiences conducting business in the region.
Nominated by President Barack Obama, Kerlikowske was sworn in as commissioner of the 60,000-employee agency on March 7, 2014.
As commissioner, Kerlikowske is responsible for protecting national security objectives while promoting economic prosperity and security. He has four decades of law enforcement and drug policy experience.
"Given my background as a career law enforcement officer, there was some concern when I was nominated that CBP would solely focus on enforcement to the detriment of economic concerns," Kerlikowske told attendees at the roundtable. "That's why I've erred on the side of really reaching out and listening to the concerns of businesses."
Kerlikowske said the agency realizes how important the just-in-time supply chain is for local companies like Boeing, and the influence international trade and tourism have on local jobs and the local economy, which is why CBP endeavors to pay close attention to as many concerns raised by local business owners.
"If there's one thing we've learned, it's that the private sector has the same goals and wants the same things that we want,” he said. “That is, no hitches in the global supply chain, (certainty) and consistency, and the ability to get answers to their concerns and questions. There is nothing that has a greater impact on the local Charleston economy than international trade and tourism."
In response to a question about the trends he was seeing in counterfeit goods entering the country, Kerlikowske said the Intellectual Property Center, of which Immigration and Customs Enforcement is the lead and CBP is the "deputy," has been working hard, and as a result, seizures of intellectual property and counterfeit goods have increased by 16 percent.
"Things like counterfeit purses may not impact national security, but they do have a major economic impact," he said. "But things that do impact national security are items like counterfeit air bags, counterfeit brake pads, or even counterfeit computer chips that could make their way into the defense industry."
With a $12.4 billion budget, CBP is the largest federal law enforcement agency and second largest revenue collecting source in the federal government.
In an effort to command the highest degree of efficiency in border management and control, CBP combines customs, immigration, border security, and agricultural protection into one coordinated and supportive mission.
The agency states on its website that it welcomes nearly 1 million visitors, screens more than 67,000 cargo containers, arrests more than 1,100 individuals and seizes nearly 6 tons of illicit drugs on a typical day.