• Home
  • News
  • About us
  • Global network
  • Careers
  • Contact us

Five Ways You Can Benefit from the C-TPAT Program

According to Customs Border Protection (CBP) there are now over 11,000 companies participating in The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism or C-TPAT, a public-private partnership program implemented in November of 2001 following the September 11 terror attacks.

The program is voluntary and continues to gain in popularity, providing real incentives to those importers who join. In 2014 alone the import value of just 4,315 importers enrolled in C-TPAT accounted for 52% of the total merchandise imported into the US.Piece of mind 041317 repost.jpg

Many trade magazines have promoted the benefits of enrolling in the program. In spite of efforts to encourage enrollment, some importers may question whether participation in C-TPAT provides any real benefits. In response, I can say that I work in the proverbial trenches on a daily basis – clearing cargo on the front lines and dealing with customs regulations. In my years as a licensed customs broker, I have sometimes experienced a pretty big difference between what is supposed to happen and what really happens with government programs. So, let's review five potential benefits of this program and whether they really make a difference with importers at the actual Ports of Entry.

Five potential benefits of the C-TPAT program:

  1. Reduction in Customs Inspections
  2. Front of the Line Privileges (if a Customs Exam Happens)
  3. Faster Business Resumption (in the event of natural disaster or act of terrorism)
  4. Marketability
  5. ISF Penalty Mitigation

Reduction in Customs Inspections

C-TPAT participants may experience fewer of these physical types of exams. But remember, it is a reduction in exams, not an exemption from exams. If your shipment gets selected for an exam, CBP will physically open boxes and look at your cargo; possibly double-check the accuracy of the packing list; and maybe even send a sample back to the Commodity Specialist to confirm proper classification. In general, the x-ray exam is more common and it is important to note that C-TPAT participants still go through x-ray exams, especially if they are shipping LCL cargo.  

Front of the Line Privileges

If tagged for an exam, C-TPAT participants have front of the line privileges over importers who are not enrolled in the program. This is a tremendous benefit for importers. Recently, one of my clients had an order tagged for an exam that carried an imminent cancellation date. The client asked me, “Is there anything you can do to expedite the exam?” Short of the hundreds of phone calls we made and a personal visit to the exam site, the only thing I could ask him was, “Did you complete a C-TPAT application?“ He had asked me about C-TPAT but never completed enrollment. In this instance I know that other CTPAT participants “cut” in front of my client. Although I tried to expedite the exam at the 11th hour, he missed his cancellation date and lost tens of thousands of dollars on the deal. If CBP is going to examine your cargo, it is always better to be the first one in line to be examined.

Faster Business Resumption

In the case of a natural disaster or terrorist attack, C-TPAT members receive business resumption priority. In my opinion any event, whether natural or man-made, that causes a serious disruption of port operations will result in costly delays for all importers. It is difficult to predict how much this benefit might actually mitigate the impact of such an event on C-TPAT members. Receiving priority in resuming your business is certainly better than the alternative.


One of the stated benefits of C-TPAT “raises a company’s reputation and secures business with other C-TPAT participants.” In other words, participation in the program may reflect positively on your business when you seek to do business with others who are also enrolled in C-TPAT. This is certainly a potential positive, although perhaps difficult to actually quantify. In my experience potential marketability has not proved to be the deciding factor for my clients considering enrollment.

ISF Penalty Mitigation

In reality, ISF penalty mitigation is only enforced for the most egregious repetitive violators. Therefore, it’s no surprise those are typically the last importers to consider enrolling in the first place. The benefit of C-TPAT participation however means that ISF penalties imposed by CBP are mitigated by 50 percent.

Peace of mind may be the real benefit

In my opinion the most significant benefit of participation in C-TPAT comes down to peace of mind that you are making your organization a much safer place. During our certification and validation process, it became apparent that there are probably more immediate threats in the supply chain than terrorism itself.

Things that would have more impact on our offices, our employees, and clients: Sketchy-looking people in the parking lots; office door locks that really don’t work very well; inadequate lighting; unidentified people in the office; employees with dubious extra-curricular activities; delivery people with serious safety flaws on their vehicles, etc. If you extrapolate these potential hazardous situations onto all trucking companies and warehouses there could be some serious threats to your employees and your business. None of those threats have anything to do with terrorism. They are about employees and employers looking out for the safety of each other. Thankfully, the C-TPAT process puts all of that into clearer focus for me and helped to identify and address those concerns.

So, does enrolling in the C-TPAT program actually make a difference? Some aspects of the program are certainly more beneficial than others, but if you have large dollar orders that live and die by a cancellation date, I think you would be crazy not to take the opportunity for the privilege of “front of line privileges” alone.

It is my professional opinion that businesses should take active steps to better secure their supply-chains and provide for the safety of their employees. Companies that benefit from a global economy have a responsibility to help secure the economic engine that provides their revenue streams. For those reasons, C-TPAT seems like a good idea to me. Even if you end up not applying, at least go through the guidelines and see what you can change to make a safer environment for your employees.

Download a .pdf Version of our Blog "5 Ways You May Benefit from the C-TPAT  Program"

Latest Posts

Case Study: Overcoming Supply Chain Disruption

Vantec Hitachi Transport is Helping Keep the Vibe Tribe Moving Closer to Adventure The economic effects of supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19 continue to ripple through the ...

read more

Your Guide to Importing PPE

  Are you considering importing PPE or other Medical Equipment into the United States? The impact of COVID-19 has created an unprecedented global demand for medical equipment needed to ...

read more

When is Air Freight the Right Choice?

In 1903, on a cold and windy December day the Wright brothers changed the world with a single 12-second flight. Considering how much work had gone into building an aircraft that could ...

read more

Does Your Freight Forwarder Offer More Than Just a Good Price?


read more

would you like more information about enrolling in the c-tpat program or a quote for your logistics needs?

Inquire About Our Services

Latest Posts