FIATA Pledges To Lead Forwarders Through 'Digital Age'

The International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA) has pledged to lead its members through the 'digital age,' providing them with the tools, training, platforms and expertise to ensure a healthy and competitive industry.

It follows criticism from an industry consultant, Steve Walker, who advises shippers, forwarders and 'online' freight companies and formerly an executive with DSV,  who cast doubts on whether the organisation was fulfilling its role.

Earlier this month, he 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.

He questioned whether FIATA was “still fit for purpose” citing that if one was to mention the organisation to any young forwarder, they would probably think it was an events company for old forwarders.

In a statement issued today, FIATA's acting director general,  Steve Morris, said he broadly agreed with Steve Walker’s comments. “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.”

The statement underlined that 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 approximately 5,000 individual members before action can be taken, the statement noted.

“National associations dictate policy. 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,” Morris explained.

The statement added that Walker was “delighted” by FIATA’s response, but emphasised that the federation had to ensure it changed to which Morris replied:

“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.”

Morris confirmed he would have discussions on this particular subject in the UK in August, but that it  would not be covered at the 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,” he concluded.