EU-US negotiations to start on US access to container ports
The Council of the European Union has agreed that the European Commission should enter into negotiations with the USA on US Customs officials (and others) having the power to search containers leaving EU ports for that country. The USA by-passed the European Commission and negotiated bilateral agreements with eight EU mebmer states - Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom and Sweden. See: Statewatch report: EU member states by-pass Commission to give US access to containers at ports
Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:
"What powers will these US Customs agents have? Will their powers be limited to terrorism or extend to crime in general? Will they be subject to national laws and the ECHR? Will they be liable for damage or false arrests? Will EU agencies be passing over data?"
Agence Europe, 20/03/2003 reports:
"The European Commission has welcomed the Council's decision allowing it to enter into negotiations with the United States to reinforce customs controls for goods transported, particularly by container, so as to address the threat of terrorist attacks. "The security concerns of both the US and the EU will be best addressed by reciprocal co-operation rather than by unilateral actions which can impact on trade and cause competitive distortions without necessarily providing increased security assurances", said Customs Commissioner Fritz Bolkenstein.
The control arrangements to be decided mutually will be over and above initiatives launched by the United States after the attacks of 11 September 2001 (notably ICS- international container security) and with a view to instituting international co-operation so as to integrate security checks into normal customs controls before goods leave a country. "The Commission fully shares the concerns of the United States about improving security, and considers that the most effective means to meet these concerns is by co-operation at EC level with the US", reiterates a press release, which indicates that the Commission is convinced that "this community-level approach would also prevent differential treatment of Member States and trade diversion within the EC".
Another aim of the negotiation is to ensure that "legitimate transatlantic trade is not hindered by the agreements, and that controls standards are equalised for US and EC operators". After the talks between the Europeans and Americans, official negotiations should be launched "as soon as possible. The mandate that the Commission has just obtained aims to extend the scope of the 1997 transatlantic customs co-operation agreement, so as to ensure a more co-ordinated approach to security controls on the movement of goods. This co-operation could apply to: - definition of key information for the identification of high-risk consignments and agreement on how to collect and exchange it between competent authorities; - establishment of common definitions for controls and how these definitions could be used to identify high-risk movement; - American and European positions on this subject in multilateral discussions; - development of a common approach for carrying out practical actions in this field". The Commission stresses that "the expansion of the 1997 agreement, when agreed, would supersede bilateral declarations of principle and bilateral agreements concluded between individual Member States (Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom and Sweden) and the US, insofar as those agreements address matters which are the exclusive competence of the European Community"."
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