Communication and co-operation were the key words at a recent sit down between Charleston business leaders and the head of the U.S Customs and Border Protection agency.
Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske is involved in ongoing dialogue with port leaders across the country, and last Thursday he met with some 30 Charleston business leaders, a gathering organized with the help of the Maritime Association of South Carolina and the World Trade Center Charleston.
One key issue for those closely linked to the business of the Port of Charleston was the implementation of the ACE Portal, a centralized online access point to connect CBP, trade representatives and government agencies involved in importing goods into the U.S.
“I think everyone has been concerned with the implementation of ACE,” said Denver Merrill, of the Maritime Association of South Carolina, “we did want to make sure he spoke about how that access is opened up to all the different agencies through ACE.”
“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 the round table gathering.
The commissioner seemed like he was “very cognizant” of having a focus on both security and the moving of cargo “efficiently and effectively,’ Merrill told Palmetto Business Daily Tuesday.
Also discussed at the meeting were the Centers of Excellence and Expertise (CEE), aimed at transforming the way CBP approaches trade operations and works with the international trade community, according to the agency’s website.
There are centers in ports and airports across the country, but not Charleston, whose business leaders do want to make sure local South Carolina expertise continues to be tapped by the centers, said Merrill.
The port’s impact on the city, state and region is enormous. It includes $53 billion in annual economic activity, according to a 2015 study by the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business. The Maritime Association prominently features the study’s conclusions.
The study also concluded the port, both directly and indirectly, is linked to 187,600 jobs in the state, $10.2 billion in labor income, and $912 million in tax revenue.
Following the meeting, Pennie Bingham, executive director of the region's World Trade Center, told Palmetto Business Daily the visit was appreciated, particularly because the port is such a crucial part of the region’s economy.
“We appreciated the Commissioner reaching out to the business and maritime community and explaining how his agency has a focus on promoting economic prosperity along with national security,” Bingham said in an email message Friday.
“He was sincerely interested in hearing any challenges or concerns that those in global trade may be experiencing, and what his agency can do to address them,” she added.
Also discussed was the movement of counterfeit goods, and how this is both an economic and national security concern.
Kerlikowske said the Intellectual Property Center, of which Immigration and Customs Enforcement is the lead and CBP is the "deputy," has seen seizures of intellectual property and counterfeit goods increase by 16 percent in the last financial year.
He linked the issue of counterfeit goods to both national security and economic impact.
"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."
A close, working, partnership with the CBP is crucial for the Charleston economy, and the state, according to business leaders.
Bingham said, “It was also good to receive an update on current programs that are being implemented, goals for increasing follow-up reports and ways that agencies are sharing information. Attendees came away with useful information and encouragement for continued dialogue with CBP as needs arise.”
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