November 3, 2023

Cassidy, Whitehouse Introduce Bill to Increase Transparency of Shipment Entering U.S.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today introduced the Manifest Modernization Act to bring greater transparency to shipments crossing U.S. borders to help stop the trafficking of drugs and illegal goods. Under current law, only ocean vessels must publicly disclose manifest information. The bill would extend the public disclosure requirement to aircraft, truck, and rail manifests. 

“When combatting the flow of drugs and illegal goods into the U.S., we need transparency on every shipment crossing our borders, not just half,” said Dr. Cassidy. “The law is falling short of a goal Congress set decades ago. This fix is overdue and urgent.”

“Drug traffickers, kleptocrats, and human rights abusers rely on transparency gaps in trade data to move illicit products and hide their ill-gotten gains. Shining a light on opaque air and vehicle imports will help law enforcement take down bad actors and keep American consumers and companies safe from unsafe or counterfeit goods,” said Senator Whitehouse.

Ocean vessels have long been required to disclose manifest information to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), including the name and address of the shipper, general character of the cargo, number of packages and gross weight, name of vessel or carrier, port of exit, port of destination, and country of destination. 

Ocean manifest data has aided investigations that have identified major Russia sanctions evasion schemes, uncovered Uyghur forced labor in supply chains, tracked tainted pharmaceutical products, and helped law enforcement find shipments linked to criminal activity, including drug smuggling. Businesses also rely on data gleamed from ocean manifests to find and evaluate suppliers, identify new customers, research market trends, and protect their intellectual property.

Today, nearly half of the value of imports come by either air or land. In 1996, Congress passed legislation to expand disclosure to aircraft manifests so that law enforcement and trademark holders could better track and identify counterfeit imports. Despite Congress’s intent, courts have interpreted a technical drafting error in a later bill to prohibit the public disclosure requirement from applying to aircraft manifests. Vehicles, including trucks and rail, have never been required to disclose manifest information.

The Manifest Modernization Act would ensure that aircraft and vehicle manifests be publicly disclosed. To protect privacy, the bill also requires CBP to ensure that certain personally identifiable information—like Social Security numbers and the names of end consumers—are redacted before public disclosure.

Organizations and businesses endorsing the Manifest Modernization Act include ImportGenius, S&P Global, Kpler, The Human Trafficking Legal Center, Transparency International U.S., Global Financial Integrity, Verité, Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum, Corporate Accountability Lab, Greenpeace USA, Humanity United Action, The Uyghur Human Rights Project, Jewish World Watch, Crane Center for Mass Atrocity Prevention, Anti-Slavery International, Oxfam America, Polaris, Free the Slaves, Transparentem, and the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking.