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Cainiao, Alibaba’s logistics arm, has called on the air cargo industry to support data-sharing and visibility across its e-commerce supply chain network.

Roger Su, head of global network planning and operations for the company, told delegates at the World Cargo Symposium in Dallas yesterday it needed better visibility across its ecosystem of handlers, carriers, truckers and forwarders.

“We work very closely with our partners on how to increase visibility and transparency. But we’d like to have industry support on data sharing.

“We are glad to see that Schiphol and Cargnonaut [cargo community] engages with everyone to connect the data. That’s what we want. It all needs to be more connected.”

Chinese company Alibaba has pledges to deliver within 24 hours in China and 72 hours globally, and is investing $15.2bn in logistics over the next four years, much of which will go into technology, said Mr Su.

“We need infrastructure investment and to get physical process points closer together to consolidate. And we are looking at how we can use technology to innovate and exchange data and streamline processes.”


World Customs Organisation (WCO) director of compliance and facilitation Ana Hinojosa said that, today, Customs was not quite ready for Alibaba’s plans.

“The maturity and development of countries around the world varies greatly, but over the last two years we have focused heavily on e-commerce.

“There has been a tsunami of small packages – for many countries, the volume has been exponential.”

Several players in the air cargo industry have already stepped up to the challenge. Swiss World Cargo, which as a capacity-limited belly carrier has an interest in small packages, is set to offer an e-commerce product.

It has been piloting a proof of concept in two lanes, between London and Hong Kong, and London and Spain, which, according to Silvia Chacon Ramos, senior manager for postal services and e-commerce, has been very successful.

“The concept is integrating virtually with last-mile delivery partners,” she told The Loadstar. “That includes Customs clearance. We won’t do the delivery ourselves, but we have created a platform that can link and connect all the partners from origin to destination, starting from the etailer.

“It’s a blockchain-based platform, visible regardless of where you are in the chain. It allows the final consumer to see every point of touch.

“We talked to etailers to find out their requirements, but our customers are forwarders and we have developed the IT platform for them.”

One of the upcoming challenges for the e-commerce industry is new EU regulations which state that, from 2021, online marketplaces must collect VAT on their platforms and that the current VAT exemption for small consignments will be shelved.

“With our current technology, this shouldn’t be hard to do,” said Ms Chacon Ramos. “But it could impact demand.”

Saskia Van Pelt, director business development for Schiphol, said: “It’s quite a discussion in the EU. Lots of retailers are really worried about the inflow of cross-border goods as they don’t have a grip on the price level.

“But I don’t think it’s a threat to air freight.”

Ms Hinojosa said it was an attempt to bring parity to sellers.

“Many domestic SMEs have been impacted in a negative way. But we have opened the door to e-commerce. Price will be a factor, but the availability of goods will continue to drive e-commerce growth.”

Mr Su agreed: “I don’t think it will have a big impact. Cross-border e-commerce is still booming – we are just at the start of it.”

Sweden has already implemented the regulations, and a representative of Stockholm Airport said that, while he didn’t think the VAT change had had much effect, the decision by Swedish Post to add a €7.50 admin fee had had a greater impact.

“We have seen a decrease in volumes and an increase in delivery times,” he said.

Ms Hinojosa added that in some countries where the de minimis level (at which customers must pay duty) was cut, Customs had seen packages get smaller, or data becoming less accurate as shippers tried to get around the rules.

“The shipments are split so that they come in below the threshold. Or you may see the country of origin changed.”

Meanwhile, other airlines are looking at introducing an e-commerce product, but one of the challenges is that they currently don’t know how much of their volumes are e-commerce.

“It’s not entirely visible to us,” said Alexis von Hoensbroech, chief commercial officer for Lufthansa Cargo. “It could be sent as mail, or consolidated in general cargo – but we do see it growing and taking more capacity. We are looking into the development of a e-commerce product, but it will still be booked through other products too.”

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