Prior to recent times, customs authorities had adopted the practice of screening international cargo as it arrived in the country, compared to having the cargo pre-screened before it leaves the country from where it is being exported. In this regard, the concept of what exactly is meant by the term “border” has undergone transformation. It has expanded to now incorporate supply chains at an international level. Technological shifts and changing paradigms in the way that businesses are conducted have led to the emergence of issues that pose a threat to national security. As a result, customs authorities over the world are increasingly shifting towards pre-screening exports.

It is reasonable to question why such a fundamental matter was brought to attention after such a long period of time. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) have been aware of the risk in security associated with transporting cargo and passengers and have been pressing for security measures to be improved and enhanced for over decades.

So why is it then that customs authorities have not given this matter the attention that it required till late? An answer to the question can be found in examining the policies regarding crossing borders at a national and international level. The primary aims of transport authorities and Customs differ greatly. Security and safety are primary priorities for authorities of the transport sector, whereas the primary concern of Customs has been ensuring compliance with international and national trade laws and the collection of revenue. It is possible for the greater part of regulatory responsibilities to be dealt with by reliance on conventional methods of compliance management. Risks to security need to be identified and addressed through prevention at the origin point, rather than detection at the arrival point. The priorities of a government’s administrative machinery are dictated by political forces. In this regard, it is only recently that national security has been considered a priority that needed to be addressed by customs authorities.

Customs authorities have up till now, followed an “interventionist” approach, i.e. intervention being necessary to fulfill regulatory requirements. The latter years of the 20th century have seen this approach change. Paradigm shifts in the way international trade was conducted, saw this approach change. There was increasing pressure on governments from global businesses and trading community to reduce the intervention of governments in business transactions. This pressure was further compounded by the emergence of the global marketplace and advancements in technology which have led to transforming global trade. This has now led to a philosophy of “intervention on the basis of exception”, i.e. intervention only when needed.

Pre-screening exports gained impetus after the terrorist attacks in September 2001. The World Customs Organization and the ICAO have mutually agreed that a global supply chain can only be secure if there are adequate security measures enforced at the point of origin. Several other organizations and examinations of security strength have resulted in measures being taken to enforce pre export screening for sea transport. However these measures need to pick up pace as far as air transport goes. So far, 101 countries have implemented regulations that necessitate advance cargo manifests to be sent to the relevant customs authorities prior to export.