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US, China Sign Agreement on Shipping Container Security

The United States and China have signed an agreement on container security. The anti-terrorism measure will allow U.S. government inspectors to investigate cargo containers destined for U.S. ports from China.

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, U.S. officials tried to find ways to protect the country from imaginative terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. ports like New York and Los Angeles are potentially vulnerable because they handle millions of cargo containers each year.

U.S. Customs chief Robert Bonner said the agreement with China is significant because of the huge and growing number of shipping containers from China bound for American shores. He also said more rigorous inspections will not slow commerce.

"Together, we can assure that the goods that flow from China to the United States are more secure, but this will also permit these goods and this cargo to proceed more predictably upon arrival at seaports of the United States," Mr. Bonner said.

Under the agreement, China will allow a small team of U.S. Customs officials to work in major Chinese ports. They will use intelligence information and other means to identify high-risk shipments.

Chinese customs officials will screen suspect shipments with advanced x-rays, high-tech chemical sensors and other methods.

Other nations are also implementing agreements to screen high-risk shipments. Shipping line official Stanley Shen, said so far, increased vigilance has not been a major problem for international commerce. "As far as I know, there's been only one or two minor cases within the whole carrier community. One, a container with no documentation, had to be discharged at another Asian port, and one vessel that needed to be turned away from a U.S. port because of no documentation," Mr. Shen said.

The agreement comes as Washington is working on new rules requiring sea, land and air shippers to give advance notice of what they are carrying, so customs agents can focus inspections on containers that are considered suspicious because of their origin, contents, or destination.

U.S. officials said they are trying to protect the nation's safety without hurting the U.S. economy or those of its trading partners.