Secretary Ridge Inaugurates New Homeland Security Program at Southwest Border

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For Immediate ReleaseOffice of the Press SecretaryDecember 4, 2003

A key U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program to counter terrorism and tofacilitate trade has been extended to the U.S./Mexico border, Department of HomelandSecurity Secretary Tom Ridge announced today.

The program, Free and Secure Trade (FAST), provides expedited CBP processing forcompanies that adopt CBP-approved security measures. To be eligible for FAST treatment,manufacturers, importers and carriers must participate in another CBP antiterrorismprogram, the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism or C-TPAT. Under C-TPAT,companies develop and implement security plans to enhance operational security. Thesemeasures vary depending on factors, such as the nature of the business and where in theglobe a firm conducts its business.  Each security plan is reviewed by CBP supplychain security experts.

Truck drivers seeking FAST eligibility must submit information enabling CBP officialsto assess whether the applicant poses a risk. Approved applicants receive aFAST-Commercial Driverentification Card.

Additional security features are also built into FAST for the US/Mexico border.  Manufacturersand carriers participating in US/Mexico FAST are required to use high security mechanicalseals on all containers or trailers destined for the United States.  Customs andBorder Protection will continue to scrutinize these shipments with enforcement tools suchas X-ray technology, canine screenings, and other equipment to help ensure that theintegrity of the FAST program is not compromised. CBP also expects that the additionalsecurity will enhance its continuing drug interdiction efforts along the border.

"Mexico is one of our largest trading partners and it is absolutely critical thatwe prevent terrorists from infiltrating the commercial chain to launch an attack,"said Secretary Ridge. "I anticipate the same degree of success with FAST on theMexican border as weve seen on the Canadian border."

FAST lanes have been operational on the US/Canadian border since September 2002. Byutilizing private sector resources and cooperation, FAST protects cross border commercialshipments from being infiltrated by terrorists and streamlines CBP processing of theseshipments.  

"This is another important step in providing the maximum amount of protection forour people and for our economy," said Robert Bonner, CBP Commissioner."Installing FAST on the southern border will also speed up the importation oflegitimate goods from Mexico into the U.S."

To expedite processing of FAST shipments, special FAST lanes are available to programparticipants at designated ports of entry. In addition, special radio frequencytransponders on FAST trucks transmit information about commercial shipments, which furtherexpedites processing.

The US/Canada FAST program currently is operational at five northern border ports ofentry - Detroit and Port Huron, Michigan; Buffalo and Champlain, New York; and Blaine,Washington. The US/Mexico FAST program debuted today in El Paso.