What's happening in China



How much self-interest is at play when backing the bureaucratic carbon craze?

If nothing else, the highly suspect UK-based Global Shippers Forum (GSF) has made it clear that free trade is in permanent decline and those practitioners who survive in it will find it more difficult and expensive.

What makes the GSF suspect, if not worthy of condemnation, is that it sails under a false flag, and is something of a shill, supposedly on the side of shippers, but really on the side of regulators.

In the past, the GSF has often taken positions other shipper groups oppose. In the mandatory container weigh-in controversy seven years ago, GSF joined the debate not on the shippers' side who wanted none of it, and derailed any attempt to discuss whether weigh-ins delays should be mandated at all.

Back then GSF had well publicised disagreements with the European Shippers Council and with the Asian Shippers' Council, which together formed a rival group called the Global Shippers Alliance.

The Asian Shippers Council (ASC) quit the Global Shippers Forum because of membership rules that would have diluted its vote by allowing smaller regional councils, which it formerly represented, to join as full members.

Today's carbon craze prompts Athens-based Safety4Sea to publish an extended Q&A with GSF director general James Hookham, who claims to be dedicated to promoting and safeguarding the interests of shippers. Perhaps, he is if one can truly say that the interests of shippers and regulators are one and the same.

Mr Hookham is frank about what is to come. "The biggest challenge that will be faced by shippers over that time period will be navigating the many obstacles and barriers that result from a continuing erosion of globalisation and free trade and adoption of protectionist measures. These will complicate the job of shippers and supply chain managers as many of these protectionist policies manifest themselves as increased trade and border frictions that shippers are responsible for understanding and complying with." 

Asked what opportunities GSF sees for enhancing efficiency and sustainability in the industry, Mr Hookham said: "The shipping industry’s route to net-zero is still unclear in terms of the fuels and propulsion technologies that will be powering ships by 2050. Many shippers, however, are under pressure from their shareholders, customers and regulators to record, report and reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions."

But is this so? It is true that major carriers see a silver lining in the regulatory clouds. That is, further corporate consolidation as smaller carriers find it increasingly difficult to meet skyrocketing compliance costs, as well as costs arising from the various bans and restrictions on access to more abundant fuels in the face of rising official climate change hysteria.

Thus, says Mr Hookham, shippers must bow to the inevitable. "The most important contribution shippers can make is to ask for, and expect to receive, an estimate of the greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the movement and handling of their goods, a commitment by the logistics provider or carrier to a plan to reduce these emissions in line with the targets in the Paris Agreement on climate change."

Much of the required reduction will only be made once the optimum marine fuel mix has been identified, he said. "Expect the adoption of available and realisable efficiency measures in the meantime to minimise the impact of carbon taxes and trading schemes, which carriers will almost certainly seek to pass on to shippers as new and additional surcharges."

To this cold comfort, Mr Hookham adds: "Shippers can best support the efforts of shipping lines to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by requesting emissions estimates for containers moved (tonnes per TEU) and track the decline of this value over time. Shippers should also seek continuous improvement in emissions reductions. Meaningful emission reductions will be achieved at a significant cost, but new international requirements will drive year-on-year energy efficiency improvements anyway, and the resulting reductions should be reported by carriers and the carbon saving reported on to customers."

In other matters, the safe, secure and clean packing of cargoes into intermodal freight containers is becoming a focus for shippers, forwarders and carriers.

"Shipping lines are rightly concerned at the frequency of on-board fires, originating in containerised cargoes, some of which have been fatal to seafarers, resulting in the devastation of marine environments and in the loss of the ship itself. The cause of these have too often been attributed to the presence of misdeclared or undeclared, dangerous goods in consignments, often from ignorance of the rules governing such shipments, sometimes because of their deliberate evasion," Mr Hookham said.

"This is problem that affects all parties involved. Responsible shippers who are fully conversant with the required procedures risk the integrity of their being compromised by the misdeclared goods in the adjacent container in the stack. Smart cargo screening tools are being commissioned to detect suspect cargoes from their descriptions on transport documents. These will help tackle a growing problem," he said.

"But carriers could also rethink their traditional approaches to surcharging declared dangerous goods shipments, and make compliance a less expensive option, rather than seeming to penalise it. Regulators too, should revisit their pricing strategies for copies of the Dangerous Goods Regulations and encourage the development of derivative guidance to encourage wider awareness and understanding."

Asked how does GSF collaborates with shippers to encourage best practices, Mr Hookham said: "A prime role of a trade association is to help its members understand what is expected of them by regulators and other stakeholders, by explaining regulatory requirements and industry best practices in a language understood by the industry."

GSF, he said, "produces a range of explanatory guides and briefing documents for the exclusive use of its members on new and emerging issues and recently adopted requirements. These guides contain insights and explanations based on the knowledge and experience of the secretariat and members of GSF’s working groups and committees that review the documents before they are published.

"Recent topics covered have included the correct use of Incoterms for containerised transport; the procedures for the safe packing and unpacking of goods in containers; the development and implementation of greenhouse gas reduction programmes in international supply chains; and the protection and governance of commercially sensitive data in digital trade and logistics platforms. Several of these have been published jointly with other trade bodies," he said.

Undoubtedly, the shipper community is delighted to learn that faced with immediate costs of carbon taxes this year, they will be compensated by a growing rich treasury of "carbon savings".

And what is all this expense in aid of? Climate change? Just ask Google: "What are the expected devastating effects of climate change?"

To which it replies."Hotter temperatures, greenhouse gas concentrations rise, more severe storms, increased warming, rising oceans, loss of species, not enough food,
More health risks, poverty and displacement."

Many, shippers included, doubt the truth of these assertions and would like greater debate on what is one of the most serious issues of our time. But such a debate must have a two-side minimum.

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The Global Shippers Forum, considered to be a shill for the regulatory community does not truly represent the interests of shippers as it claims it is. Do you agree?

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China Trade Specialists