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CIFFA Report

Freight Fowarding: A Vital Link to Canada's Future

by George Kuhn

Due to the immense geographical obstacles posed by its landscape, Canada’s history is inextricably linked to the history of transportation. From the time of the “Coureurs de Bois,” transportation has played a vital role in Canada’s relationship with the land, and only through its modern transportation infrastructure will Canada continue its impressive economic growth.

Our world has evolved from a predominantly regional and national economy to that of a multi-national, global theater and the movement of goods from source to point of sale has grown exponentially.

With roughly 1,000,000 businesses in Canada, this brings exciting opportunities and extraordinary growth potential to the logistics industry. All of these businesses must arrange for the smooth flow of goods and services between themselves and their 30 million Canadian consumers, as well as businesses and consumers worldwide.

Today, freight forwarders have had to become knowledge workers who are affected by many trends, including globalization, information technology and organizational changes. Logistics jobs are increasingly knowledge jobs, or jobs requiring information management skills, as well as analytical and multi-logistics functional skills. Logisticians must be sophisticated users of IT, capable of developing strategies to deploy technology to competitive advantage and, at the same time, integrate them with client systems.

The requirements of our association have also changed to reflect this trends and the levels of excellence required in business. The Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA), established 52 years ago by eight founding-member firms, forged a well-defined identity apart from that of a customs house broker. This small collection of member firms in Montreal has grown to be a national organization of some 150 members, as well as a plethora of associate members.

In today’s climate of international mergers, acquisitions and global tenders, this may seem an oxymoron. Would it not be more logical if there were a contraction in membership? Not so, say many experienced shippers, having gone the way of the global route of the multi-nationals. They have found big variations in the levels of services performed by different parts of the global supplier. Often, the local resources of the mega-sized companies lacked the substance, capability and local know-how that were previously supplied by the regional service provider. Preoccupation with digesting the mergers and changes in functional priorities often resulted in diluted customer focus and lack of flexibility and creativity in meeting the intricate challenges of modern business.

These suppliers have realized that effective alternatives exist through established regional partners that think global, but act local. It is characterized by their willingness to involve others in the supply chain, ensuring that the needs of each customer are met exactly, regardless of location and special know-how required. Often, smaller companies are faster and more creative in embracing Internet-based applications to manage the flow of global orders moving across their supply chain. While mega-sized companies still struggle to integrate their often incompatible EDI-based information systems, smaller companies have designed systems that are interactive, enabling their clientele to book their shipments on-line, track in real-time and monitor the status of freight as it moves through customs.

CIFFA acts not only as a service provider for its membership and as a watchdog to govern the quality and standards of its members. To be a member today, the individual firm must subscribe to and abide by a clear set of ethical and professional standards.

To maintain these standards, CIFFA coordinates, administrates and controls professional development programs nationally. CIFFA recognizes its responsibility to shippers and the freight community to ensure that the skill sets that exist in this industry today are not undervalued or needlessly disregarded. Recognizing that “knowledge is power” member companies can access and obtain certification through the organization in various disciplines.

Furthermore, CIFFA is pro-actively coordinating career development issues with other related learning Institutions such as colleges and universities and, most particularly, the Canadian Professional Logistics Institute, of which it is a founding member.

Where necessary and appropriate, CIFFA coordinates these standards of excellence with FIATA and IATA and other national and international institutions of relevance. Human resource development has thus become an important and critical component in CIFFA’s mandate, and is looked upon as a core ingredient of membership services by our association.

Its mandate also includes such member benefits as ongoing dialogue with regulatory bodies, all levels of government and with the whole sector of transport providers, surface, air or sea. It is also pro-actively involved with the International Association of Freight Forwarders (FIATA), that, in turn, has permanent delegates with such institutions as UNCTAD and the ICC that continuously strive towards common standards, harmonization and facilitation on a worldwide basis.