KARACHI, May 3 Delay in allocation of land for the installation of scanning and x-ray facilities at Karachi Port's terminals will end up in paying huge cost by exporters because scanning at US port would cost them $800 per box.

The US Congress has already passed a legislation that requires all containers loaded on vessels from foreign ports must be scanned for nuclear and other radioactive material before they enter US ports by July 2012.

This was stated by Stephen G. Fakan, the US Consul General in Karachi at a briefing on the “US Secure Freight Initiative for Pakistan” (SFI) at his residence here on Monday.

In the presence of media people and some business leaders, including shipping and customs officials, the US envoy directly blamed Pakistani government for the delay in allocation of land.

He said that the US was ready to install scanning and x-ray facilities at two terminals-Pakistan International Container Terminal and Karachi International Container Terminal-located at the Karachi Port but the government of Pakistan has yet to give green light to proceed.

He said that Pakistan had an advantage in meeting US legislators' requirement owing to the joint US-Pakistan Secure Freight Initiative (SFI), which since 2007 has used non-intrusive imaging and radiation detection technology to scan 110,000 containers at Port Qasim at no charge to the Pakistani exporters.

But the allocation of land at the Karachi Port for installation of scanning machines is the only bottleneck in full implementation of SFI despite the fact that the framework for expansion to KPT was agreed to in a Declaration of Principles between the US Customs and Border Protection and the Federal Board of Revenue signed in 2006.

Another official from the US embassy in Islamabad Robbie Marks disclosed that for the past two years negotiations for expansion had stalled as the government of Pakistan was unable to allocate suitable land for the facility.

However, he said the KICT and PICT wanted SFI and have identified and dedicated their own land for scanning facilities but the government's node is needed to move ahead.

Mr Marks indirectly hinted that if Pakistan had to build on trade and market access to US the key bottleneck in the way is SFI and it is a win-win situation for Pakistani exporters, who would immensely benefit from the facility.

He explained that compliance of SFI is must for cargo destined for US ports. The scanning at the Port Qasim terminal has helped to minimise processing time and takes only around 6 to 10 minutes for scanning a container and information so collected is passed on to government of Pakistan as well as to the National Targeting Centre in Virginia, where CBP officials pre-certify containers for entry to the US ports long before they arrive.

Robbie Marks said that it was cost effective because it will help Pakistani exporter to save $800 per container if the same facility was availed on arrival of boxes at US ports. The rapid and cheap processing will help increase demand for Pakistani goods in the US market, he maintained.

He categorically stated that SFI was only for US in-bond cargo intended for securing partnership at technical level with the FBR. It is also being demanded by leading US buyers for having scanning facility at the Karachi Port.

Mr Marks, who is Deputy Counselor for Economic Affairs at US embassy, Islamabad, said with the addition of facilities at the Karachi Port to the existing apparatus at Port Qasim the CBP and Pakistan customs could jointly scan over 100,000 containers each year, providing the means to effectively double US-Pakistan trade, and bolster Pakistan's role as a regional trading hub.