CTL: In your 30-plus years of being involved in the freight forwarding industry, can you speak to some of the changes you have witnessed during that time?
Snowden: Today we sit at the table with regulators. Then, being an international freight forwarder was all about serving the customer. Now it’s about serving the customer while satisfying the regulator. Today, there are four programs for freight forwarders leading to the Advanced Certificate, as well as four very comprehensive textbooks, with online and print content. Now, the CIFFA certificate program is included in the curricula of several colleges – in the George Brown International Business Post Grad course and in the Seneca Customs Brokerage and Freight Forwarding Diploma, as well as in private career colleges like TriOS.
CTL: Where do you think the association is headed in terms of your goals and priorities for the year ahead?
Snowden: CIFFA is all about focusing on the freight forwarder and we expect slow and steady growth in our membership. CIFFA today represents 250 companies, and we expect to have a net gain of six to eight new ones per year. The interesting thing about the change in the industry and the association is the new emphasis on building strength from within. Our board determined a few years ago that we needed to increase the professionalism of the industry. We have raised our membership criteria. One of the focuses is an increased requirement for training. Every CIFFA member has to have someone trained to the level of a CIFFA certificate or comparable level from a college-that’s because the industry has changed so much and you just have to know more.
CTL: The advocacy role, one of CIFFA’s main pillars, has also increased. What is going on in that regard?
Snowden: Something else we’re going to be focusing on is this emphasis on representing the industry to carriers, to government. There’s a lot more regulatory change coming down the pike. We go out and meet with carriers and regulators, ask questions, present that stakeholder input. Hopefully at the end of the day, some of these programs are designed so that we can do the work, move the freight for the customers, which is the ideal at the end of the day.
CTL: CIFFA just hosted its 65 anniversary gala, and Roads, Rails, Runways conference, in partnership with the Edmonton International Airport and city of Edmonton. Why Edmonton and what are you hoping will emerge from that event?
Snowden: When Edmonton International Airport approached CIFFA with the offer to host a 65th Anniversary conference, some of our Board Directors and I were skeptical. However, I’ve had the opportunity to visit Edmonton twice recently – and I must say that there is a real energy in that city and especially at the airport. CIFFA is all about bringing opportunity to our membership – and ROADS.RAILS. RUNWAYS (was) an excellent opportunity for forwarders (and importers, exporters, project cargo guys and carriers) to experience first hand what is happening in the west. You know, a lot of us in Montreal and Toronto keep looking at our familiar business model, our traditional customer base – and to be honest we don’t always see the growth opportunities. In Edmonton, we see the possibilities in the north and the west.
CTL: Given the complexity of regulations under which industry is working, can you describe some of the challenges still ongoing for your membership, in the regulatory realm?
Snowden: We are in the midst of a very complex, game changing eManifest initiative with CBSA. We have been up front and center and vocal with the CBSA in the design since 2008 and now with the implementation. eManifest is ACI on steroids plus changes to your operating system, plus changes to how you do business. We’ve faced some challenges-it’s the first time the freight forwarders have been recognized under the Customs Act as a person under the law. We’ve started some voluntary implementation, and as you would expect in such a major program we’ve got some implementation issues. How do we transfer liability from the rail to the freight forwarder? These things haven’t been addressed yet. But we’re optimistic that over the next 12-18 months this program will come in. The reason that CIFFA supports it on behalf of the freight forwarders is that it will allow us to go paperless on the inbound deconsolidation so it’s really important for us. We are identifying issues with CBSA on an ongoing basis and trying to work through and find solutions. The agency is very good about sitting down and working with us. We’re never happy with the speed and not always happy with the answers but CBSA has done a very good job of outreach and trying to get things right.
CTL: What about cargo security and some of the issues around container examinations? Snowden: The big issue around container examinations cropped up around the spring/summer of 2009 when Customs introduced a fumigation test during examinations of ocean containers. They just introduced the change (with no collaboration) and we had disastrous results where the containers just sat for months waiting for examinations-it was hugely expensive. We’ve made great progress since then. The CBSA has invested in new technology that we hope will reduce container examinations. It’s not fixed yet. CIFFA doesn’t feel the individual importer should be paying the cost of Canada’s security. We feel that is a cost that should be borne through the tax system. I will say the CBSA do recognize that container examinations in particular can be improved. I think we will get some good success there.
CTL: Air cargo security is also a hot topic for forwarders-how are they ramping up for a stricter mandate on screening?
Snowden: We’re expecting regulatory change this year but there have been delays so we don’t expect to have 100 % screening for air cargo really before 2015. So where airlines have invested in screening equipment and third parties/independent screening companies have invested in highly expensive equipment there’s really no mandate to screen so that (investment) was perhaps a little premature. It’s been challenging I think.”
CTL: What is your impression of efforts to harmonize programs and standards, whether cross-border or internationally? Snowden: Looking at the Beyond the Border initiative, I’m optimistic that Customs and Border Protection and CBSA can work together on something as simple as harmonized data elements. Any moves that we can make as a country towards harmonization with the US in particular are a good idea and as far as global security goes harmonization of security is good. Airlines and forwarders serve all these markets and cannot deal with all the different regulatory requirements. We have to be able to train our employees that this is the data you have to send, this is when you have to send it, and let governments manipulate it how they would. There’s been a big discussion about a modal shift from air freight to ocean freight. I think the air cargo market has been difficult-whether that’s because there’s been a modal shift to ocean freight or truck freight, or whether it’s because the cost of money is cheap right now so you can have inventory sit on the ocean as opposed to having to fly. You still see a lot of complexity in the marketplace with ocean freight with introduction of surcharges/ special fees. The complexity in the administration of managing that ocean mode has really changed a lot since the 1980s. Freight forwarders have to have whole departments for managing quotations.
CTL: What is your approach now, and what do you foresee as being your approach to meeting the needs of your membership?
Snowden: CIFFA has designed and delivered one day management workshops for freight forwarders, importers, customs brokers, anyone who will be impacted by eManifest. We take what we’ve learned through the advocacy and we train everyone else on these changes. So we stay relevant and I think this is one of the hardest things for an association. I think by creating these new training programs for which we have to seek input from government and from customs brokers then we can deliver that value to our members. We have training on air cargo security (Cargo security coordinator) but as Transport Canada introduces shippers into the secure supply chain equation, CIFFA has now said we’ll develop the training for them to take out to our customers. It involves everybody, and that’s where I see our value and our growth over the next few years. Our original charter was to represent the international freight forwarder in the Parliament of Canada… back in 1948 when ‘global logistics’ wasn’t even a concept. I work closely with the Board and with the President. Relationships are critical and I am proud of the work we have accomplished building bridges.
Associate editor Julia Kuzeljevich has been writing about transportation issues for more than a decade. Her meticulously researched articles have garnered several transportation and Canadian Business Press writing awards.