MORE THAN 20 years ago, freight forwarders were the first of all professional categories to appreciate the importance and impact that China would have on our economy and our port system. The first years were those of the pioneers: Italian operators set out to explore an immense territory and find their way through a foreign trade culture without so much as a compass, learning through experience but confident that the Chinese production phenomenon would be long lived and that they had to remain in this game at any cost. Today the pioneering times are over. China is a well-known reality, but remains an opportunity for those working in the field of transport and logistics. It all started in Hong Kong with one single office where a dozen shipping agents from Genoa started sending Italian staff. And that exploration path which only began a decade before the previous century closed, today has evolved in a twinning between the shippers of Genoa under Spediporto’s umbrella and the Hong Kong homologous association, Haffa. It’s the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, marked by the launch of a standout project, the Belt & Road initiative, officially presented by the Chinese government in front of an audience of State representatives from around the world, just this year. Spediporto is ready to make the most of the challenge, as explained by the president of the association, Alessandro Pitto.
“During our delegation’s visit to Hong Kong and Shenzen organized by the Propeller Club,” explained Pitto, “we celebrated the twinning with Haffa, the Hong Kong freight forwarders association. We have signed a memorandum of understanding in which all parties commit to a strong collaboration and mutual support, on-site assistance or help with resolving eventual disputes for our companies in China as well as for Chinese companies in Italy. Haffa is a very important entity in both air and maritime transport industries and it plays an important role in the New Silk Road project. A role that the entire Hong Kong cluster strives to achieve. This is why last September the city hosted an important meeting; the port of Hong Kong feels the competition of the other Chinese coastal cities and it desperately wants to maintain its leading position”.
For the Genoese freight forwarders their contact with the Chinese reality was an introduction to an advanced level of online sales management. It is a segment that opens up unprecedented opportunities for the sector which, however, will have to make some important adjustments since e-commerce is very much based on air transport, which in Genoa is still quite underdeveloped. As Pitto confirmed, “They are doing a lot of business with e-commerce. They are interested in establishing a point of reference that could help with customs clearance procedures and delivery, acting on behalf of the Chinese companies selling their products in Italy online and who, for the moment, typically use air shipping. Companies selling on Alibaba don’t have a foothold in Italy. If this market becomes more consistent, we will need a local storage facility which will be filled with goods traveling by sea and will distribute directly to Italian customers”.
The meeting with the Hong Kong shippers, therefore, goes beyond the twinning between associations with common interests (Spediporto had already signed another agreement with the shippers of Hamburg and is preparing to sign some more). It represents a leap into the future for the sector, which needs to constantly acquire new skills as technology develops. Pitto also stated: “Our role is no longer exclusively linked to the management of full-container shipments, but it now expands to include the handling of goods traveling by air. We should aim to place ourselves in the heart of a growing segment where operations are harder since we need to manage many small shipments. In Hong Kong, shippers are already very familiar with this business, whereas we have only just started. It is an opportunity worth exploring.”
Precisely the fragmentation of e-commerce shipments is bringing to light problems that are mainly due to a limited knowledge of customs regulations, which the seller ignores and which often become a problem for the Italian customer. “It is not just a problem of VAT costs and unforeseen duties. Sometimes the goods do not arrive precisely because they do not have the necessary authorizations. We do not know how yet, but we think that it is necessary to come up with a plan to provide the correct information.”