'Cargo containers: biosecurity aspects and procedures' details information on biosecurity requirements for risk management of containers and the cargo and packaging materials they carry. Cargo containers have many potential biosecurity risks including timber pests, soil, plant and animal matter.
Importers must satisfy Australian biosecurity concerns and comply with biosecurity conditions applicable at the time of entry. The Commonwealth of Australia through the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is not liable for costs arising from or associated with decisions to import based on conditions presented here, which are not current at the time of importation.
Biosecurity issues associated with containers or the goods they carry
Biosecurity import requirements and procedures for containers arriving in Australia from overseas ports are designed to exclude exotic pests and diseases while facilitating clearance of containers and the goods they carry.
1.1 Timber used in the construction of containers
The department is concerned about exposed timber components of containers. If Full Container Load (FCL) release is required, exposed timber components must meet the department’s requirements. Containers constructed without exposed timber still pose some biosecurity risk. These risk include soil, plant material and contamination from animal products. Provided the container is free of biosecurity risk they are not subject to biosecurity control. Reconstituted wood products such as particleboard, chipboard, masonite, oriented strand board, medium and high density fibreboard, or with plywood or veneer used as packaging and dunnage are considered permitted packaging due to their history of being free of biosecurity risk. The department does not actively regulate these materials when used as packaging in cargo containers. These materials are only monitored during surveillance activities such as verification inspections.
Australia has regulated the import of timber associated with cargo containers and timber packaging and dunnage since the 1970s. Interception records demonstrate that many insects, some exotic to Australia, attack seasoned timber and solid timber after non-permanent treatment. Containers with exposed timber components imported into Australia must be free of active infestation.
Exposed timber used in the construction of containers is not considered to be packaging and dunnage and should be permanently treated to minimise biosecurity impediments in Australia. However, timber permanently and totally encapsulated in a manner which excludes insect infestation does not necessarily require chemical treatment.
Details of the department approved timber permanent preservative treatments (or immunisation treatments) can be found on the
timber permanent preservative treatment requirements web page. These treatments are used to prevent infestation of the timber components during the service life of the flooring and many will also provide protection against timber decay.
1.2 Internal or external contamination
The interior and exterior of containers must be free of any biosecurity risk material. The department's biosecurity treatment guide provides definitions of biosecurity risk materials, including examples and the risks that they pose. It also outlines the department approved treatment options available to treat all types of biosecurity risk material.
Some of the most significant biosecurity risks associated with containers include:
- Giant African Snail (GAS) or
-to address the risk of introducing GAS to Australia, the department inspects for GAS on the external surfaces of all sea freight containers originating from countries with GAS that appear on the Country Action List (CAL). In addition, the department requires the interior of containers originating from GAS target areas to be free of GAS
- plant material
-grain and other plant material pose a risk of introducing Khapra beetle (Trogoderma granarium)
- animal products.
For more information on these and other pests and diseases, please see
Be biosecurity aware – See. Secure. Report.
For information on imported sea containers and non-containerised (breakbulk) cargo from CAL locations, please see the
CAL web page.
Thorough cleaning of the interior of the container before loading and the exterior before shipment will assist in removing contamination and can alleviate the need for expensive and time-consuming biosecurity treatment on arrival in Australia. All contaminated containers and cargoes detected entering Australia require treatment at the importer's expense before release.
Note: Thorough internal and external cleaning of empty containers is a valid alternative to methyl bromide fumigation.
1.3 Packaging materials
For information about all prohibited and permitted packaging materials please see the ‘Non Commodity’ case in the
Biosecurity Import Conditions system (BICON). This case includes an extensive list of prohibited packaging materials which must be declared to the department. The
Non-Commodity Information Requirements Policy contains information on the documentation and statement required to declare presence or absence of prohibited packaging materials.
Timber packaging, including pallets and crates, is commonly used for packing goods and is subject to biosecurity requirements. Many damaging timber pests and diseases not present in Australia may enter Australia in timber used to pack and/or support cargo. Additional information about timber packaging, including treatment requirements and bark tolerances, can be found on the
timber and bamboo packaging web page.
1.4 Goods subject to Australian Biosecurity Control
Containerised goods subject to biosecurity control must be cleared by the department before the container is released.
Biosecurity procedures for containers
2.1 First Points of Entry
Containers may only be imported into Australia through a port or landing place that has been determined a First Point of Entry for those goods, unless specific permission is obtained under section 146 of the
Biosecurity Act 2015.
First Points of Entry have been assessed against regulatory standards to ensure they have appropriate infrastructure, facilities and procedures to manage the biosecurity risks of their operations. First Point of Entry Determinations are published to the Federal Legislation Register as instruments to the
Biosecurity Act 2015and list:
- Permissions for the particular classes of conveyances, animals, plants or goods that may be landed there.
Points within the landing place or port.
Biosecurity Entry Points are designated areas within the port or landing place where particular classes of goods must be brought in order to appropriately manage their biosecurity risks.
- Any conditions associated with the port or landing place as a First Point of Entry.
Further information about
First Point of Entry ports
First Point of Entry airports
and the classes of goods that can be landed.
2.2 Release of FCL/FCX containers
The release of FCL/FCX/LCL containers from the wharf/terminal to the consignee's premises may be permitted if the following requirements are met:
- the exterior of the container is free of contamination by soil, animal or plant material
- the goods, packaging and interior of the container are not contaminated with biosecurity risk material, and the goods are not subject to further biosecurity intervention
- no timber has been used as packaging or, if timber has been used as packaging it meets
the treatment and bark requirements for timber packaging (Please see the ‘Non Commodity' case on
timber packaging for more information)
- no prohibited packaging material is used. All such material should be declared. Please see the ‘Non Commodity’ case on BICON for further information.
There is a compliance scheme for the clearance of non-commodity concerns for containerised sea freight. For further information please see the Non Commodity for Containerised Cargo Clearance (NCCC) Scheme.
2.2.1 Release of FCL/FCX containers carrying goods not subject to Australian biosecurity requirements
FCL/FCX containers which conform to non-commodity requirements for packaging and internal container cleanliness and do not contain goods subject to further biosecurity intervention may be released to unpacking addresses within the metropolitan area of the port of entry or within the metropolitan area of other approved ports. These containers are subject to random surveillance and may be selected for inspection.
However, release is still subject to external container contamination concerns as stated in Section 1.2 of ‘ Biosecurity issues associated with containers or the goods they carry’. If treatment is required the container will be directed to a department Approved Arrangement (AA) site designated for this purpose.
All non hard-frozen containers destined for rural unpacking addresses must undergo a rural tailgate inspection and all documentation must be presented (for example packing and cleanliness declarations and any treatment certificates for timber packaging and dunnage used in the container).
For information on hard frozen and bulk liquid containers (ISO tanker/tank container) see the
Non-Commodity Information Requirements Policy.
2.2.2 Release of FCL containers carrying goods subject to Australian biosecurity requirements
FCL/FCX containers carrying goods that are of biosecurity concern will need to have all documentation presented to the department. A biosecurity officer will assess the documentation and decide on the appropriate action for the goods; for example release them from biosecurity control, or direct them to an AA site for an inspection, treatment, or to be held pending further information.
The action the biosecurity officer takes will depend on whether the non-commodity requirements have been met and what the import conditions for the goods are. The department’s import conditions system
BICON provides information on import requirements for commodities.
Containers carrying goods subject to biosecurity are only permitted to move to rural destinations if they are moving to an AA site for unpacking. They must first undergo a rural tailgate inspection and all documentation must be presented (for example packing and cleanliness declarations and any treatment certificates for timber packaging and dunnage used in the container).
2.2.3 Incorrectly documented goods
FCL/FCX containers carrying incorrectly documented goods can only be directed to a Class 1.1 AA site.
2.3 Release of Less than a Container Load (LCL) containers
Provided the external of the container is free from contamination, all LCL containers entering Australia will go to a Class 1.3 or 1.1 AA site for deconsolidation.
2.4 Release of Imported Empty Containers
The internal components of imported empty containers may be contaminated with biosecurity risk material and are inspected by the department or a biosecurity industry participant (BIP) at an empty container AA site. If contamination is found in/on the container, it must be cleaned or treated by an approved method before it can be delivered or used to pack export product.
Two new policies have been developed to clarify and simplify the 'rules' under which documents used for the clearance of imported cargo are either acceptable or unacceptable to the department. Please visit
Documentary Requirements to view the
Minimum Documentary and Import Declaration Requirements Policy and
Non-Commodity Information Requirements Policy.
3.1 Packing declarations
3.2 Exemptions from Consignment Specific Packing Declarations
3.3 Cleanliness declaration
3.4 Certification of treatments used for timber packaging and dunnage
3.5 Import Declaration requirements for containers carrying goods subject to Australian biosecurity requirements
An Import Declaration must be lodged in the Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs) Integrated Cargo System (ICS) by a Home Affairs registered client for all imports. Please visit the Home Affairs website for customs procedures for imports and exports.
3.6 Follow-up inspection for document verification
To check the authenticity of documentation, the department has adopted a system of follow-up inspection. Where a biosecurity infringement is detected, all subsequent containers from that source arriving at Australian ports may be diverted to an AA site for unpacking until the department is satisfied that all biosecurity requirements have been met.
3.7 Biosecurity fees
Information relating to the application of biosecurity fees can be viewed on the
Biosecurity Cost Recovery & Charges Imposition Regulations 2016.
Biosecurity procedures for Air Cargo Unit Loading Devices (ULDs)
Unit Loading Devices (ULDs) or Airway Cans used by the air transport industry are designed to meet specific airworthiness standards and are usually constructed from metal with no exposed timber. ULDs are normally unpacked at approved Bond Stores or Cargo Terminal Operator (CTO) depots at airports where the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources operate.
4.1 Cleanliness of ULDs
All contamination on ULDs must be removed by cleaning. Cleaning may only be performed at Approved Arrangement site with the appropriate class requirement.
4.2 Biosecurity requirements for immediate release
For immediate release of air cargo containers to unpacking addresses in the metropolitan area of the port of entry, the department must have a master or house airway bill with an adequate description of goods to satisfy the department that they are not subject to biosecurity.
For further information please contact one of the following:
- For enquiries regarding timber issues contact the Timber National Coordination Centre, +61 3 8318 6929, or email
- For enquiries regarding the Minimum Documentary and Import Declarations Requirements Policy contact the
Compliance Assessment and Management Section.
- For enquiries regarding the Non-Commodity Information Requirements Policy or approved arrangements implemented by the department email the
Approved Arrangements Section.