In recent years, Great Lakes ports have been working to develop new business in two distinct areas: containerized cargo shipping, and passenger cruise tourism. These new business sectors have presented a challenge for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The inspection and processing of shipping containers and passengers is more complicated than the processing of traditional Great Lakes bulk cargoes. Both require unique staffing, equipment and facilities. CBP officials have explained that they face both funding and staffing limitations and have denied service at some ports, limiting economic growth. In fact, during 2020 CBP announced that it would no longer clear containers associated with project cargo at Great Lakes ports without a specialized facility, thus discouraging project cargo customers from using most Great Lakes ports.

CBP’s current service model negatively impacts existing cargo business, and also discourages the development of new commerce and jobs at Great Lakes ports. In a real sense, it asks commerce to shape itself to the inspection regime, rather than shaping the federal CBP inspection service to the efficient flow of commerce.

Congress should provide more funding and staff for CBP services and inspection equipment at seaports. Further, Congress should direct CBP to develop a small port, low volume and seasonal clearance model that accommodates the unique conditions and scale of the Great Lakes cargo and cruise market.