Maneuvering Freight Through Challenging International Areas 

Do your 2011 business plans include shipping to areas where civil unrest or natural disasters have occurred? If so, be flexible and make strong connections, advises Larry Wenrich, vice president, government sales for Lima, Pa.-based Pilot Freight Services. Here are his tips on shipping to and from difficult areas.

1. Locate an airport with customs facilities. Some transport managers assume all airports have customs officials to handle incoming freight, but this is not the case. The best solution may be shipping to the closest airport with customs facilities, then trucking your freight to its end location.

2. Find a local agent you can trust. You must rely on these individuals to transport your shipment and navigate the intricacies of working in their area. Make sure you’re working with companies that are bonded and recognized by the local government.

3. Ask for a full list of fees up front. Legitimate agents will be open about all costs, fees, and taxes. Fees can vary greatly between companies and nations. Not signing off on this list in advance opens you up to being scammed.

4. Communicate via email. Email provides a paper trail if issues arise, and helps avoid “he said, she said” situations. If there is a language barrier, email is better than a phone call because it lends itself to quick translation.

5. Pay attention to the weather. Natural disasters have seriously impacted international shipping over the past few years. Stay current on international weather issues that might affect shipments. Keep in close contact with various airlines to see which ones are flying into trouble areas, and be flexible and creative in routing freight.

6. Be flexible. When shipping to areas such as China and the Middle East, you may encounter issues such as office closings due to local holidays. Plan for delays, especially if you are shipping to areas recently hit by natural disasters.

7. Be aware of border issues. The fastest way from Point A to Point B is not always a straight line. Relationships between countries can cause complications. For example, to move a shipment from Kenya to the Congo, you must route it through Europe, because no carrier flies between those two countries. These issues can exist even between European Union and non-EU countries. Just because borders touch, don’t assume you can ship across them.

8. Consider chartering flights. When shipping to sensitive areas, it is often impossible to use commercial flights. For example, most freight moving to Iraq and Afghanistan is flown commercially to the United Arab Emirates, then moved via charter operators that fly to the necessary airports.

9. Make sure your freight will be secure. Limit yourself to using approved agents who have been vetted for stability and reliability. Get written confirmation that they will abide by Foreign Corrupt Practices Act standards, which are intended to prevent bribery and other forms of corruption. If you are working with a freight forwarder, make sure its agents comply with these requirements.

10. Keep in touch. Communicating frequently with trading partners is always important. But when freight moves across oceans, through several countries, and via multiple transport modes, there is more room for error, and a long window of time between freight acceptance and delivery. Make sure to keep all involved parties up to date on any issues or problems that arise.

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