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A further indication that the fortunes of the international freight forwarding industry might be on the rebound was in evidence at the offices of the WCA Family this week.
The organisation – the single largest network of independent freight forwarders across the world, with 5,200 members – offers its members a free dispute resolution service.
Andy Robins, WCA vice-president of customer service, told The Loadstar that the backlog of cases still to be resolved had diminished significantly over the past year.
“Twelve months ago I had three times the number of cases still to be resolved, but the fact that we haven’t had many news ones to add to the pile tells us that we are coming out of recession.
“What tends to happen when business is good is that members are normally able to resolve disputes –which mostly revolve around payments – between themselves, rather than coming to us and launching a whole process that can take many months. They would rather get it resolved and get on with business.
“When a recession is at its height, however, they are scrapping for every cent, and our workload gets a lot heavier.”
In an arbitration case, the WCA customer services department is called to investigate the details of the dispute and then presents its case to an independent panel made up of WCA members, who will then make a judgment.
Mr Robins explained that because of the rather forensic nature of its investigations, the customer services department is able to establish “patterns of behaviour”, that allow it to draw inferences about the wider state of a business, as well as the strength of individual member companies.
“Without realising what we were seeing at the time, we actually saw the recession coming.
“A lot of cases stem from one member going bankrupt and, in the normal course of events, the results of bad business decisions and so on, but at that time we were seeing genuinely good forwarders losing one or two major customers and being unable to replace the business; having no options but to declare bankruptcy,” he said.
Since its inception eight years ago, the arbitration service has completed 626 cases, of which only four rulings were not accepted by the parties in dispute. Mr Robins added that in 99% of those cases, both parties had remained WCA members.
“That is not a bad record, since in any ruling at least one party is going to feel aggrieved. But the crucial thing is that they at least feel that they have been judged by their peers; by other members,” he added.
The WCA annual conference was, last week, cancelled due to the uncertain political situation in Bangkok, where the organisation is headquartered. Yesterday president David Yokeum announced that it would now take place in Hong Kong on May 11-18.
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