Category Archives: Global Trade

Twenty Score and Sixteen Years Ago Today …

… the British East India Company, which would grow in size until it accounted for half of the world’s trade, was chartered. While it hasn’t been in existence for 142 years, it made Britain a trading superpower and with the other East India Companies (Dutch, Portuguese), basically defined global trade for centuries.

The wikipedia article alone is a fascinating read, and links to many more resources for those who want a historical trade understanding.

What do you think LOLCat?

LOLCat, technically, as they were chartered, they weren’t pirates.

LOLCat seems to disagree …

Freightos: Still Flippin’ Freight Quotes Faster than a Fleet-Footed Feline on Guarana

When we last checked in on Freightos a year ago, they were serving up real-time freight quotes for global shipping and were just launching the marketplace where buyers could search by “lane”, see public freight quotes from shippers serving those “lanes”, compare them, and book quotes. (And a buyer can define a lane by zip code or city, and the software will automatically identify all relevant [air]ports.) Since then, the Freightos marketplace has been growing, and a few noticeable improvements have been made:

More, and bigger, carriers.

Now that big global companies have publicly announced their adoption of the platform — including Sysco, Marks & Spencer, and Panasonic US — bigger forwarders and carriers are signing up and there are a plethora of good, competitive, economical options for all major lanes between Asia and North America — which includes complete multi-modal options from just about any zip code to any zip code in the regions of interest (and almost all major ports and major distribution centers are covered).

More refined cost tracking and rate comparison. 

Upon launch, Freightos provided buying organizations the ability to upload all of their contracts and associated rates. The UI has been improved and it’s easy to compare the contract rate against the current market rate of a carrier as well as the market rates of other carriers side-by-side and to see the relative delivery times that correspond to the rates. (The models break down the cost and delivery time component of each leg of the journey. Truck to port, ocean or air cargo from port to port, truck to distribution center, etc.)

The detail provided on quote breakdown is incredible compared to most platforms that simply collect an all-in-one delivery free for each segment and the government tariff rate(s). If relevant, the platform will break out delivery fee (per unit), fuel surcharges, messenger charges, e-document charges (at origin and destination), lift gate charges, manifest system charges, customs charges, each export and import tariff, SOLAS administration fees, docking fees, temporary storage fees, freight station fees, pier pass fees, cleaning fes, chasis fees, handling fees, and local charges.

Immediate Online Payment with Booking

Since Freightos can now collect payment immediately upon booking through the marketplace, this provides two major advantages over the initial version of the platform where a buyer requested a quote, a supplier replied, and then a booking was made at a later time. The buyer gets the booking they need when they need it, no fear of the lowest cost or preferred carrier maxing their quota (and the option disappearing because someone else selects and pays first). Secondly, since all marketplace payments flow through the platform, Freightos is able to offer the service free for buyers and at a low cost to service providers, who pay a small transaction fee (which should cost them much less than it does to hire multiple sales people to respond to offline RFQs all day with the same quotes cut-and-pasted into multiple Excel sheets of various formats).

More Powerful and More Responsive Drill Down Filters

Not only can you select/deselect ports, modes, forwarders/carriers, intermediate routings, and intermediate ports/distribution centers, you can also include or exclude additional requirements such as lift gate, cross-docking, etc. in your search and comparison. The platform is effectively doing hundreds of searches across (potentially) thousands of carriers with dozens of options in real-time.

Streamlined Document Management

The platform can store, index, and cross reference all contracts and documents (such as insurance certificates, compliance certificates, etc.) related to all carriers used by an organization and they can be easily retrieved when a quote is accessed or easily managed through a carrier management interface.

A Full Featured API

You can include the power of their marketplace in your sourcing application. You don’t have to use their web-interface, you can embed the search functionality in any platform you are currently using to get worldwide shipping estimates and available carriers in real-time.

Freightos is getting very close to becoming the powerful freight management solution that will not only be Supply Management’s best friend but the default platform for all logistics tenders and spot buys performed by the organization. Stay tuned. We’re sure we will be hearing more from Freightos in 2017.

Sixty Nine Years Ago Today …

GATT was created. Originally signed by 23 nations in Geneva on October 30, 1947, it was the foundation for global trade until January 1, 1995 when the WTO was formally established (after being agreed to by 123 nations in Marrakesh on April 14, 1994). GATT was important not just because it created critical multi-lateral agreements, but because it offered a substantial reduction of tariffs and other trade barriers for its member countries, with average tariff levels for major GATT participants of only 22%. This might sound high as a tax rate, but when you consider some acts can see tariffs as high as 100% or 200% (to prevent market flooding with foreign goods), this is very advantageous. And these levels dropped over time. By 1967, average tariff levels were 15%, and by 1993, two years before the creation of the WTO, average tariff levels were 5%.

Any comments, LOLCat?

Navegador Nightmares? It’s Your Own Damn Fault!

In the midst of the recent receivership of Hanjin shipping, the seventh largest shipping line by overall capacity, there are a lot of trepidations, fears, and worries by companies that use it for shipping, and in particular, companies that already have cargo on its ships. (As noted by Bob Ferrari over on Supply Chain Matters in The Financial Shot Heard Across the Globe, many global ports will not accept nor export cargo on the carrier’s vessels because of uncertainties as to whom we pay charges or more importantly, whether specific vessels will be seized by creditors as captured assets, meaning that not only can vessels on the water not be loaded, but they can’t be unloaded.)

Now, if you happen to be working in one of the organizations relying on this carrier, directly or indirectly, you’re probably screaming “how did they let this happen” (where “they” is, in your mind, poor management) and “what the hell do I do now” (and the answer is easy, what you should have done in the first place, and we’ll get to that) and that would be fine, if you were focussed on the right “they” and were simply choosing among your different (pre-planned) disaster recovery options, but chances are it’s the wrong “they” you are focussed on and, as the organization never allowed Supply Management the time to do proper risk assessments and disaster recovery plans, there are no backup plans ready to go.

The short answer is unless you are including yourself in the “they”, as the “they” is all of the Procurement and Logistics managers who not only selected the carrier but encouraged the excessive growth, and unless you are acknowledging that your lack of a disaster recovery plan for this very predictable likelihood (as it’s easy to identify a supply chain choke point and what could go wrong – in this case, all your products in containers on the same ship and that ship all of a sudden going missing, and whether it sinks, gets captured by pirates, or seized by creditors is irrelevant from a recovery point of view), you’re not focussed on the right questions, what you should do about it, and what you should have done in the first place.

Maybe you had little option (as you were shipping from Korea and this was the only reasonable shipping deal you, or your 3PL, could cut), but you could still plan on a lost shipment, have a supplier with excess capacity (in overtime if necessary) that could replace the shipment quick, and a back-up (more expensive carrier) ready to activate if needed (along a different route). This would be okay and proper, especially if you really did need to outsource to Asia, but how many companies did it okay and proper? Judging by the number of articles and semi-widespread panic (and fears of more receiverships and bankruptcies because of the over-capacity, not too many).

But chances are you got yourself into the situation where you had little option, by far-sourcing something you didn’t need to far-source. You got caught up in the outsourcing craze in the 90’s, believed all the hype about lower costs (because of lower unit costs due to weaker Asian currencies, lower wages, etc.), and didn’t look at the full TCO, which also included transportation costs that could be 10X what you were paying when you were near-sourcing from Central America (from the US), skyrocketing T&E costs (because if you didn’t go on-site regularly, you didn’t get what you wanted), and phone-bills that looked like office building lease payments. And maybe if you were in electronics China and Korea had the better factories, but how hard would it have been to invest in new factories in Mexico and Brazil, relocate the necessary top-talent to get them going, and recoup the initial investment in orders of magnitude over a ten to twenty year time-span? Not hard.

Basically, by outsourcing everything you could identify faster than rabbits without any natural enemies can breed, you built up a need for a lot of capacity, which the industry responded to, but when you kept going, the shipping industry, not wanting to get caught with its pants down again, analyzed the trends and kept building. Then, when oil went through the roof, and the smarter companies realized that long-term strategic near-sourcing (and, when possible, home-sourcing) was actually the best option after all was said and done, and pulled back, there was glut capacity and the shippers, who overbuilt, were now stuck with capacity, overhead, and loans they couldn’t pay. This is all a result of poor long term planning on the part of Procurement, and your predecessors, which, in all honesty, you should have been endeavouring to fix as each and every outsourced category came up for re-sourcing (as you should only produce products in Asia for Asia if you can help it — even FoxConn has realized this and opened a Brazilian factory — slow ramp-up not withstanding).

So, whether you created the mess or not, you’re in the job now and it’s up to you to fix it, and the navegador nightmares, the doctor is sad to say, are your own.

With Currencies Crazy, Is It Time to Return to Barter?

This is more of a question / thought experiment than anything else, but it’s a good question.

Brexit has thrown the British pound into chaos again. (Nothing new, it’s happened before, it will stabilize eventually, but it will happen again.)

Canadian and Australian dollars have recently made substantial declines from highs that put the dollars almost on part with the American dollar to lows that put it a mere two thirds to current values around the three quarter mark.

The Greek financial crisis is still ongoing and could threaten the Euro further.

And so on.

An organization enters a long term (multi-year) contract with an international partner under the expectation of value, an expectation that is crated based upon a current and projected currency exchange rate — which can change radically overnight when a single country, or in some cases, a single bank, decides to do something extremely unexpected or extraordinarily stupid.

All of a sudden costs can double. That’s considerably more fluctuation than is in the reserve budget.

But what if there was no exchange of currency. What if it was an exchange of a raw material or service for another raw material or service, where each raw material or service came from the organization or a partner in the same country. Since the value of a product or service, adjusted for inflation, is relatively constant over time and since the relative value of one versus another is also relatively constant over time, such a contract would not be subject to rapid changes in value differences regardless of what happened in the currency markets.

Now, you’re probably thinking that this wouldn’t work — you buy from X and don’t sell them anything, but who do they buy from and what do they buy? And what do their downstream partners need? Remember, they have bills to pay too and if their supplier requires a raw material in abundant supply that could be supplied by one of your customers, that has to pay you anyway, all could work out.

For example, just because you’re buying rare earth metals for electronics manufacturing, doesn’t mean bartering is off the table. The rare earth metals provider, which provides a refined metal, might be buying from a mining company that is part of a conglomerate owned by a single company that requires specialized mining equipment on a regular basis. One of your biggest customers could be a producer of this equipment that buys all of its hardware and associated services from you. If you arranged for payment in mining equipment of your choice in today’s dollars, and the seller was happy with that conversion, you could pay in mining equipment over time, regardless of how your relative currencies rose and fell.

This might not have been imaginable years ago given all the supply chain visibility, data, and optimization models that would be required to identify the right value-generating deals that could keep costs constant over time, but with modern supply chain systems that enable visibility from the raw material to the end customer, all supply relationships, demands and spend, and multi-level optimization models, this is now a reality. And currency risk could effectively be made a thing of the past in large, critical categories. It could require more multi-party agreements, but if all parties benefit, why not? It’s not like you have to courier contracts around the world — create a secure collaboration portal, agree, e-sign, and you’re done.

Now, just like buying on behalf of the supplier to get lower costs through greater volume leverage is still only done by the leaders, SI expects that this is something that only leaders would do for at least the next decade, if it was done at all. What do you think? Will leaders catch on?