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This week’s Transpacific Maritime Conference (TPM) in Long Beach, California, brought thousands of BCOs, forwarders, NVOCCs, analysts, press (and a few carriers) together to reaffirm that relationships really do matter.

Indeed, JOC’s TPM22 theme, Relationships Matter, was never more appropriate as groups of BCOs, with their C-suites in tow, commandeered any available workspace to exchange supply chain nightmare stories and tap each other for the best short- and longer-term solutions.

Ocean carrier representatives did what they could, but often their hands were tied – in the new era of shipping line dominance many regional executives have been stripped of their customary autonomy, in terms of important decisions on space allocation and rates.

Many carrier staff looked stressed as they took brief breaks from the shipper onslaught in the warm California sunshine. A long-serving account manager at a major carrier told The Loadstar she was “trying to put on a brave face”, but was finding the event “the most difficult I have ever attended”.

She added: “It should be the time when we meet our customers and hopefully shake on a new deal, but many have had their MQCs slashed or been told by our HQ we can only offer them spot.”

Having their fears of insufficient contract capacity confirmed in those early carrier meetings, the BCOs and their senior execs organised meetings with forwarders and NVOCCs.

Moreover, the need to find sustainable solutions to supply chain issues ensured that the after-conference networking events were heavily oversubscribed.

Furthermore, the BCOs were keen to hear the message from superstar speakers, such as Becky Wu-Lee, senior manager, logistics and customs compliance at Igloo Products, and Mary McNelly, senior director, global logistics and supply chain design at Crocs.

Every word, no-nonsense view and solution from the two logistics experts were eagerly listened to and debated at networking coffee breaks – much less so the presentations and platitudes from the two carrier CEO speeches.

There was a one-word answer from Ocean Contracting panellist Ms Wu-Lee to the question from moderator Mark Szakonyi as to whether carriers were “overplaying their hands and taking advantage of the market”: “Yes,” she said, bringing ripples of approval in the packed ballroom.

And fellow panellist, Simon Munn, VP FCL product, Americas, for DHL Global Forwarding, claimed carriers were playing capacity and rate negotiations under ‘Vegas-rules’ – whereby the house always wins.

Meanwhile, speaking on another agenda item, Seizing control of your import supply chain, the impressive Ms McNelly had clearly risen to the challenge, describing her successful endeavours to secure capacity for her company’s iconic casual footwear from Vietnam in the face of lockdowns and blank sailings, as “career-defining”.

Her advice to other logistics managers at the event was to protect their supply chains by negotiating a mixture of deals, including long-term agreements with carriers underwritten by the NYSHEX contract guarantee and to allocate back-up percentages with NVOCCs and forwarders for capacity at spot rates.

Her over-riding advice was always to “involve your executive teams” so boards understand the daily battles  going on in the logistics space – advice that may or may not have been taken by some of the BCO procurement officers that have recently lost their jobs.

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