11.12.19

The Monroe News: Federal officials to study port trade inequities

Port director Paul LaMarre III and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., have met with Customs and Border Protections regarding their questions about Port of Monroe.

When you’re not getting the answers you want, sometimes you have to ask to speak to the manager.

In the Port of Monroe’s pursuit to more broadly handle international cargo, those managers are Customs and Border Protection’s Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan and Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner John Wagner.

Port director Paul LaMarre III and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., met with Wagner and Morgan last week to discuss regulation’s imposed by CBP’s Detroit office that have hampered the local ports’ ability to operate in the international trade market.

″(CBP showed) a willingness to take a hard look at the facts presented to them,” Peters said. ”(Officials) certainly seemed willing to take a deeper dive into the issues that were raised.”

According to LaMarre and Peters, Morgan and Wagner said the federal office will examine the issue and seek to clarify why there is a perceived discrepancy in field offices’ application of regulations.

Until this meeting, CBP’s federal office and the commissioner’s office were not aware to the extent that Michigan’s commerce was being restricted by the Detroit office’s rules, LaMarre said.

The CBP Detroit office claims it has limited resources and is unable to dedicate staff members to Monroe or other ports. It also requires X- ray and radiation portal monitoring on all international containerized and crated cargo in the state. Such equipment upgrades would cost the Port of Monroe $ 5 million.

LaMarre said it was evident during the meeting that Michigan is being held to a different standard. He said officials made clear their intention to impose stricter regulations on a national level but couldn’t explain why the level of scrutiny is heightened for the state.

“I believe Morgan’s direct dialogue will be critical in moving this issue forward,” he said.

A request for comment from CBP’s office in Washington, D.C., was not returned as of press time.

The meeting is the latest development in the local port’s ongoing regulatory battle. For years, the Detroit office, which holds administrative jurisdiction over maritime trade in the state, has barred Monroe’s port from dealing with international containerized and crated cargo.

CBP Detroit has ruled Monroe — and all ports in the state — lack proper safety scanning equipment. The Port of Toledo and Port of Cleveland, the nearest ports on Lake Erie, are subject to CBP’s Chicago office.

A disparity in regional regulations is the most vexing aspect of the problem for U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton. He has been working with LaMarre, the port and Peters to nail down why different regions seemingly have different rules.

Ports in Ohio are not required to conduct X-ray or radiation portal monitoring on each shipment, Walberg said. But those ports have been able to operate in the trade market without the same expectations demanded of Michigan facilities, he added.

He believes regulations should be uniform across the country regardless of regional jurisdiction boundaries. If scanning is required of all shipments in Michigan, it should be done at all ports, he said.

“Frankly, (CBP) has no good answers,” Walberg said. “Hopefully they will give us a way forward whereby the ports will be treated fairly.”

For LaMarre, it’s not an issue of taking away business from Ohio ports, which he largely considers to be allies of the Port of Monroe. It’s about promoting a level playing field and deploying policies that ensure safety while also prompting economic growth.

“We want all Great Lakes ports to be successful,” he said.

Michigan’s economic competitiveness is Peters’ broader concern. Varied standards unfairly set up some markets for success while hindering others, he said.

“We need to have the strongest border security possible ... but you also have to (enable) commerce to go across the bord as well,” he said.

The Port of Cleveland has a CBP office onsite and is in the process of building an even larger facility, according to Jade Davis, vice president of external affairs at the Cleveland port.

Each containerized or crated shipment undergoes some form of inspection, Davis said. Inspections at the Cleveland port are not always X-ray or radiation scanning, he said, adding that the port does have the capability to meet such standards.

“We have all the required safety equipment,” Davis said.

Joe Cappel, vice president of business development at Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said the port doesn’t use such equipment on all of the international shipments it handles, but the bulk of its cargo is larger pieces that are neither containerized nor crated.

Local politicians merely want the same standard applied to ports, which are less stringent when it comes 100% required scanning.

“Just because some are in Michigan and others in Ohio should make no difference when it comes to federal standards,” Peters said.

Walberg has a simple answer to the burden of upgraded safety equipment. If CBP requires advanced equipment, the federal government should be required to put up a significant portion of the funding. Ports can’t be expected to fully shoulder the financial burden, he said.

“The have to turn down (commerce opportunities),” Walberg said. “Without that commerce, how can you expect them to buy the equipment?”

The port isn’t looking to employ a massive international trade strategy immediately. It’s looking to handle one or two international cargo vessels a month, LaMarre said. It would require about eight hours of CBP employees’ time, he added.

Though such traffic is small, the economic impact is far from it, according to a University of Michigan study. The port is losing out on tens of millions in revenue each year, with projections showing a potential for significant growth, the study found.

“This is about the future prosperity of our community,” LaMarre said. “No consistent standard allows CBP to choose winners and losers. This is about the Detroit field office recognizing that the promotion of commerce ... and the economic vitality of the citizens they are serving is equally important.”


By:  Tyler Eagle
Source: The Monroe News