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FIATA Pledges to Lead Forwarders through the Digital Age

On July 16th, Ex-DSV executive, Steve Walker called on FIATA to “become a safe haven for forwarders to discuss a wider new industry strategy”, in the face of vertical consolidation by shipping lines, and the attempt to control data via platforms such as TradeLens, a join partnership between IBM and Maersk. Mr. Walker questioned was FIATA “still fit for purpose” citing that if one was to mention FIATA to any young forwarder, they probably think they are an events company for old forwarders.

Acting director general Steve Morris replied to The Loadstar in regards to Mr. Walker’s comments broadly in agreement. “FIATA is fit for purpose in terms of deliverables for all its members. But there is clearly a new world order coming up, an IT revolution”.

“The challenges [for forwarders] of what Maersk is doing can’t be underestimated, it is vertically integrating, as it realised it couldn’t do much alone as a shipping line. “In many places, companies such as Uber are getting rid of the middle man – which in the supply chain is the forwarder. But forwarders have been part of the process for a long time. Do forwarders need to see this as a challenge? Yes. Is FIATA aware? Yes, we are. “If you control the data, you control your destiny. Give away the data, you give away the destiny.”

FIATA had already been ahead of this development back in 2017 when Working Sea Chairman Jens Roemer, at the 2017 FIATA World Congress in Kuala Lumpur, argued that FIATA and forwarders should make better use of supply chain data or risk losing out to shipping lines and IT-driven logistics start-ups.

Although FIATA was fully abreast of the situation back in 2017, the pace at which FIATA moves is slower than a private business. The international body needs to gain consensus through a truly democratic process from FIATA’s 106 National forwarding Associations and approx. 5,000 individual members before action can be taken.

“National associations dictate policy,” Mr. Morris explained. “And they all have very different interests. Everything takes a while and time becomes an enemy. But we can tell members that this is an issue we should invest in and be a leader, rather than passive.”

Mr Walker said he was delighted by FIATA’s response, but said the association had to ensure it changed. Mr. Morris reassured change, “I am anticipating change at FIATA. It is too bureaucratic, but it has offered a way forward. In five years’ time, FIATA will have little purpose if it carries on only talking about things like bills of lading. No one will be talking about that except as a history lesson”.

Mr. Morris confirmed he would have discussions on this particular subject in the UK in August, but this topic would not be covered at 2019 FIATA World Congress meeting in October, as the content had already been decided. “Everything points to forwarders being under huge pressure from the outside”. Therefore, FIATA is aware of its need to equip members and the forwarding community with tools, training, platforms, expertise and much more to ensure a healthy and competitive industry that continue to promote trade and provide economic prosperity.

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