Shanghai and Shenzhen are the first mainland ports to sign the initiative China has agreed in principle to join America's crusade to secure United States-bound maritime trade against acts of terrorism by signing up to the Container Security Initiative (CSI) at the ports of Shanghai and Shenzhen. China's top customs official, Mu Xingsheng, yesterday signed a declaration of principles for the CSI with his US counterpart Robert Bonner in Beijing, opening the door to the placement of US customs agents on the waterfronts of the mainland's two biggest container ports. 'CSI is essential in securing global trade against terrorist exploitation,' said Mr Bonner, commissioner of US Customs and Border Patrol. 'It is the only formal programme in operation today that is designed to detect and deter terrorists from exploiting the vulnerabilities of containerised cargo.' With China on board, US customs has succeeded in getting 19 of the top 20 ports in terms of exports to the US to sign up to the CSI. Only Kaohsiung, in Taiwan, has yet to sign up as the initiative turns to Phase II. In Asia, CSI is already operational in Hong Kong, Singapore and Yokohama. While it is being pitched as a global security initiative, CSI only targets US-bound containers. It was put into motion immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11. The initiative allows US customs agents to work with their international counterparts in monitoring goods bound for the US. All parties share intelligence and consignment information, which allows them to target high-risk containers that are inspected at the port of origin before being shipped. It was crucial for US Customs to sign up the Shanghai and Shenzhen ports. Exports from Shanghai to the US surged a comparative 25 per cent last year to US$17.5 billion, the largest market from the mainland's biggest port. It is estimated that as much as 70 per cent of exports from Yantian, one of the three ports that make up the Shenzhen triumvirate, are bound for the US. Both ports are booming. Throughput in Shanghai grew almost 36 per cent in the first half to 5.2 million teu (20-ft equivalent units), while boxes moving through Shenzhen jumped 42 per cent year on year to 4.6 million teu. The US is by far China's biggest trading partner with almost 35 per cent of mainland exports of retail goods bound for American consumers. Hong Kong, Shanghai and Yantian alone accounted for almost 20 per cent of all containerised exports to the US last year. The CSI entered Phase II last month as the US looked to extend its security mandate to cover more than the top-20 ports which accounted for two-thirds of boxed exports to America. 'We will be expanding CSI to other ports that ship substantial amounts of cargo to the US and that have the infrastructure and technology in place to participate in the programme,' Mr Bonner said. 'Phase II will help us extend port security protection to more than 80 per cent of all containers coming to the US, casting the CSI safety net far and wide.'