Law­mak­ers want to block cus­toms sta­tion in UAE

Viewed as a boost for Arab car­ri­ers

The Washington Times Daily - - Business - BY JEF­FREY AN­DER­SON

A bi­par­ti­san bill to halt a pro­posed U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion pre-clear­ance fa­cil­ity in the United Arab Emi­rates is aimed at pro­tect­ing do­mes­tic air­lines from their for­eign com­peti­tors.

Reps. Pa­trick Mee­han, Penn­syl­va­nia Repub­li­can, and Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon Demo­crat, said that the pro­posed fa­cil­ity at Abu Dhabi In­ter­na­tional Air­port will al­low trav­el­ers to “pre­clear” U.S. cus­toms be­fore ar­rival.

But be­cause only one air­line has reg­u­lar ser­vice from Abu Dhabi — Eti­had, the UAE’s state-run air­line — the law­mak­ers are con­cerned that trav­el­ers seek­ing pre-clear­ance will re-route through Abu Dhabi, giv­ing Eti­had a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage over do­mes­tic car­ri­ers.

“It’s ridicu­lous that U.S. gov­ern­ment pol­icy would en­cour­age trav­el­ers to use for­eign air­lines in­stead of U.S. car­ri­ers,” Mr. Mee­han said. “While pur­su­ing strong bor­der and cus­toms poli­cies, we should not be hurt­ing Amer­i­can work­ers by giv­ing an ad­van­tage to a state-sub­si­dized for­eign air­line.”

Mr. DeFazio called the U.S. cus­toms plan “ab­so­lutely ou­tra­geous,” adding that tax­payer funds “would be bet­ter spent re­duc­ing wait times at U.S. air­ports for U.S. pas­sen­gers.”

A Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cial de­fended the ar­range­ment, say­ing that re­im­burse­ments in­cluded with the pre­clear­ance agree­ment will al­low U.S. cus­toms to shorten wait times at U.S. ports.

Pre-clear­ance op­er­a­tions, es­tab­lished by for­mal agree­ments be­tween the U.S. and the host coun­try, are akin to Global En­try, a Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion pro­gram that al­lows pre-ap­proved, low-risk trav­el­ers to pro­ceed to kiosks upon ar­rival in the U.S., where they get ex­pe­dited pro­cess­ing.

But the pre-clear­ance is tied to out­bound air­ports, al­low­ing trav­el­ers to ob­tain clear­ance be­fore they board, even when des­tined for U.S. air­ports that don’t have cus­toms agents. Cur­rently, pre­clear­ance ex­ists at most ma­jor Cana­dian air­ports, some air­ports in Ber­muda, the Ba­hamas, Aruba and a cou­ple of air­ports in Ire­land.

The Mee­han-DeFazio bill re­quires that Home­land Se­cu­rity must pro­vide Congress with an eco­nomic im­pact and na­tional se­cu­rity as­sess­ment be­fore open­ing a new pre-clear­ance site. A sec­ond bill is ex­pected in com­ing days that will fo­cus more nar­rowly on se­cu­rity.

“Congress has dis­com­fort with the depart­ment’s pre-clear­ance deal,” said Rep. Ben­nie G. Thomp­son of Mis­sis­sippi, rank­ing Demo­crat on the House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee, who will be in­tro­duc­ing a bill. “There are chronic bor­der se­cu­rity staffing short­ages at our na­tion’s air­ports, yet the depart­ment saw fit, on its own, to agree to de­ploy its per­son­nel to Abu Dhabi and have its gov­ern­ment pick up the tab.”

Peter Boogaard, a Home­land Se­cu­rity spokesman, said the pre-clear­ance agree­ment with the UAE will en­hance se­cu­rity by al­low­ing U.S. of­fi­cials to screen pas­sen­gers be­fore they board in­com­ing flights, “while also stream­lin­ing le­git­i­mate travel and com­merce.”

An Abu Dhabi pre-clear­ance center could be a boon for Eti­had, po­ten­tially guar­an­tee­ing its long-term part­ner­ship with Amer­i­can Air­lines and bol­ster­ing its abil­ity to ex­pand fur­ther into Canada, ac­cord­ing to the web­site Ara­bian Busi­ness.

“Un­til the Jet Air­ways pur­chase — and an ex­tremely im­por­tant Abu DhabiU.S. pre-clear­ance agree­ment — Eti­had looked like an easy call for Amer­i­can to walk away from. Not any­more,” says a re­port by CAPA, a mar­ket anal­y­sis firm with ex­per­tise in global avi­a­tion.

Eti­had also re­cently an­nounced plans for daily di­rect flights to Los An­ge­les start­ing in June, which would be its fourth U.S. desti­na­tion.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“It’s ridicu­lous that U.S. gov­ern­ment pol­icy would en­cour­age trav­el­ers to use for­eign air­lines in­stead of U.S. car­ri­ers,” says Rep. Pa­trick Mee­han, Penn­syl­va­nia Repub­li­can, of pro­posed fa­cil­ity in Abu Dhabi that will al­low fliers to “pre­clear” U.S. cus­toms.

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