There’s the business climate. And there’s the environmental climate. Officials at Customs and Border Protection want to talk with industry about the impact of international trade on the climate … and they’re organizing an event to share ideas. For details, Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with AnnMarie Highsmith, Executive Assistant Commissioner (EAC) of Office of Trade, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Tom Temin And this is a follow on of an initiative, now that’s about a year old where you’re trying to assess the environmental impact of international trade. How’s it going? What have you learned so far in the past few months?
AnnMarie Highsmith Things are going great. There’s a lot of energy and interest in the international trade community and also amongst our international partners and our participating government agency partners. So a lot of energy. The strategy has really helped us refine those conversations to focus on our four pillars. How do we incentivize green trade? How do we strengthen CBP’s environmental enforcement posture? How do we accelerate green innovation and how do we improve climate resilience and resource efficiency? So with those four pillars, our community is latching on creating their own programs, their own ideas, and partnering with us to move the ball forward. We’re really excited with the progress that we’ve made.
Tom Temin And just maybe a quick restatement of the definition of what is green trade. I mean, as far as I know, we don’t have electric cargo ships yet.
AnnMarie Highsmith No, we don’t. But we do know that a significant if not overwhelming portion of global carbon emissions is tied to international supply chains, both what comes here and how it gets here. And so focusing on those two points, how do we reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the production of merchandise and how do we move it more efficiently and effectively to also reduce carbon emissions? Those are our two focuses for green trade.
Tom Temin And with respect to what is traded someone might be a distributor of lawnmowers in the United States and the lawnmowers come from all over the country. I’m just making this one up. Some lawnmowers, there are electric and they finally work good. As someone who played with these 30 years ago, they were terrible. Now they work well, but someone else could be importing plain old two stroke gas lawnmowers, which are noisy and make a lot of smoke. What influence does CBP have over what it is that people are actually shipping in or shipping out?
AnnMarie Highsmith This is something that we’re taking up with our international customs community to figure out For the first pillar of the strategy incentivizing green trade. How can we encourage trade in those environmentally friendly goods?
Tom Temin What’s the reaction from industry in this country so far?
AnnMarie Highsmith Industry has been very enthusiastic. There are a lot of companies and industry sectors that are really leaning forward on this. Our steel and aluminum manufacturers, their association has been working on this for a while to try and reduce their footprint, but also incentivize others to reduce their footprint.
Tom Temin It strikes me that the data that CBP collects on inbound shipping, which you do for other purposes, could also be repurposed for getting a better understanding of what is coming into the country from an environmental standpoint.
AnnMarie Highsmith Well, that’s absolutely right. We do look a lot at the environmental impact of our own operations. This year, we launched the truck, a manifest modernization program, we call it TMM, that reduces the amount of time that trucks are dwelling at the southwest border, which has had a dramatic impact on greenhouse gas emissions in those communities. And we’re partnering with members of the scientific community in order to actually have measurements baselining right now. And then how can we measure the impact of changes that we’re making both locally and globally?
Tom Temin We’re speaking with AnnMarie Highsmith. She’s executive assistant commissioner for the Office of Trade at Customs and Border Protection. And you are now becoming a convener. And industry groups are going to get together at a meeting that you’re planning. Tell us what you have in mind, What’s going to happen?
AnnMarie Highsmith So on July 11th at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia, we’re hosting the Green Trade Innovation and Incentives Forum in order to create an opportunity to work collaboratively across industry and government to help develop and incentivize trade practices that are contextually relevant, reduce climate risk, and harmonize approaches to really address our greatest challenges in greening trade.
Tom Temin And who will be coming there?
AnnMarie Highsmith We have opened it to industry, to our participating and government agencies, to academics who will also be in attendance. A broad, broad public engagement here. It’s not only occurring in-person at the PTO, but is also available virtually so folks can log in.
Tom Temin And I was going to say, you’re the Office of Trade, but you’re part of Homeland Security, whereas Patent and Trademark Office, of course, is Commerce. And so I would think that there’s a lot of commerce involvement, even beyond the USPTO in this whole trade issue, because we sort of have convergence of mission here somewhat between two departments.
AnnMarie Highsmith Right. Our Department of Commerce colleagues have been great partners with us in this area. Also, our PTO partners in particular, they are looking for ways to encourage the development of new ideas and new technologies. Then they can protect American ingenuity in that regard.
Tom Temin And I want to get back to the topic of the means of transport for goods. I mean, they come by, big belly aircraft or they come by big ships both back and forth. And that industry, that end of the transportation industry is the least able to adapt to some of the new technologies that we see in cars. And it could be decades. It may be never, for that matter, trucks, because so truck becomes electric. But now, instead of weighing 10,000 pounds, it weighs 30,000 pounds. And you’ve got all kinds of other environmental bad effects and maybe your net is actually worse. So what do you see ahead? What are the trends there and what do you hear from that industry with respect to how they can get greener?
AnnMarie Highsmith They’re very aware of the challenges that they face, but they are taking a lot of responsibility for their role, just as we all are. Everyone needs to lean in to change the things that they can change in a positive way. And so our ocean partners, they are looking at ways to improve the efficiency of their movements. They’ve been participating in our Aqua Lanes program, which does, in fact dramatically reduce emissions at our seaports. They’re looking to improve the efficiency of booking of their vessels to reduce those emissions. And also in the air environment, the same considerations.
Tom Temin And you mentioned the Aqua Lane program. You didn’t borrow that from Jethro Tull, by any chance?
AnnMarie Highsmith No. No, but but if if we had, we’d be paying appropriate royalites.
Tom Temin I’m sure you would be. And so what’s your hope for the outcome, the deliverables from this convening that will take place in July?
AnnMarie Highsmith Creativity and innovation really thrive in proximity. And I am hoping that the outcome is an energizing of those two in this area. I am hoping that our partners encourage each other and create sparks of ingenuity that will help move the entire ball down the field for us from a global perspective. I’m also hoping that encouragement comes out of this because when we look at global greenhouse gas emissions and we look at climate change from the broader perspective, it’s easy to feel some sense of despair. I hope that hope comes out of it and encouragement that we all can do our part and cumulatively we can make a big impact.
Tom Temin And just a final detail question. Will someone say from an Amazon type of company be there or Amazon? Because I think of them as the biggest pipeline from China and Chinese goods into the United States?
AnnMarie Highsmith I do expect that members of our Freight Forwarding and Express Consignment community will be present.