'Invisible' industry keeps supply chain moving

Published in The New Zealand Shipping Gazette on May 2, 2020NZ Express transporter driver Samantha Fraser.

By Rosemarie Dawson, Chief Executive, Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Federation of New Zealand (CBAFF)


‘Freight movers we thank you’. Many of you on essential work travel during recent weeks will have seen this NZTA-approved message on smart signs above motorways.

While this was most likely directed mainly at truck drivers, there is no doubt the huge effort required to keep goods flowing, in and out of New Zealand and around the country during Alert Level 4 and now Alert Level 3, has brought our once largely ‘invisible’ industry into the public eye.

The volume and speed of change following the announcement of Alert Level 4 lockdown was unprecedented. New challenges emerged by the hour. In the highly sensitive world of freight, governed by multiple rules and regulations, an avalanche of questions poured in from across the sector regarding what operators were and weren’t permitted to do.

Multiple issues — which could not have been easily foreseen — arose. Throughout this period CBAFF has been working with, and continues to work closely with, multiple agencies to ensure an ongoing flow of information to our members.

As we settle into the new ‘normal’ of Alert Level 3, at least for the next two weeks, there is a little more breathing space for the sector to move from ‘all hands on deck’ mode to planning.

CBAFF will be holding a webinar for our members and clients, from 12pm-1pm on Friday May 1 to help support planning around the COVID- 19 impact.

Speakers will include Andrew Hudson, of Rigby Cooke Lawyers, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), me and others.

It will cover initiatives for facilitating international freight, international and New Zealand export and import controls of medical and protective equipment and related items, force majeure and other current legal issues. There will be a Q&A session for participants and we will be updating on CBAFF’s work with agencies in the interests of members.

Those agencies range from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), the Ministry of Transport (MoT), MFAT and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), New Zealand Customs, Biosecurity NZ and Air New Zealand.

We are presenting members’ views and the position of the industry and working to convey accurate  updates and information from these meetings to our members as they occur. We are participating in discussion groups and meetings with industry stakeholders, including ports, shipping lines, primary produce exporters, exporters and importers and taking feedback and input from members into all these meetings daily.

The efforts by these agencies, by ports and the freight forwarding sector to address the issues faced has been herculean. Inevitably, there have been frustrations but diligence and attention to detail have kept trade moving wherever possible.

The current new ‘normal’ of Alert Level 3, has allowed for the resumption of freight movements and major exports not previously deemed as essential but there’s still a mountain to climb.



The issue of detention charges for the massive backlog of non-essential import cargo which has built up in ports, needs to be addressed.

The waiving of detention charges by shipping lines during Alert Level 4 was very much appreciated by the industry. However, the Government’s announcement of the move to Alert Level 3 was followed swiftly  by notices to the effect that detention charges were being resumed.

Timings and costs have varied, leading to some confusion, but, as an example, one shipping line sent out a notification that it would be kicking off charges from April 24, at $110-$180  per day per container, rising to $140- $240 a day from April 26.

Given the amount of non-essential cargo, this backlog cannot be cleared  in a few days. Many retailers will still be closed and there will be shortage of storage space for unpacked goods.

One of our members has a major retail client with such a significant amount of containers currently in storage that they are expected to take a month to clear. The detention charges for these for the whole of May are estimated to reach $114,000.

In our ongoing discussions with shipping lines, CBAFF is  pressing them to review this decision. We are also encouraging Government agencies to add their voices to this. There were some developments around the detention issue at the time of writing,  so watch this space . . .

In just a few weeks things have changed for everyone in the country, and for our industry. The likelihood is nothing will ever be quite the same again.

The economic challenges will echo for years to come. China has recorded its first GDP decline in  decades. US oil prices went negative for the first time in history. Germany is officially in recession. Twenty-two million Americans have already lost their  jobs.

At the same time, people have changed their shopping habits. There has been a massive increase in online shopping. Forbes reports that retailers selling non-essentials have already seen double and triple digit increases in sales during the COVID-19 crisis. People who have never used online shopping before, have been driven to online commerce by the desire to order food items. Retailer/consumer relationships are changing.

Like many other sectors,  our industry is doing it tough but no sector is more nimble and more capable of adapting to change than ours. That has been proven over and over again in the past weeks. I’d like to finish this article as I began, ‘Freight movers we thank you’.


Pictured above: NZ Express transporter driver Samantha Fraser.