Rachel Madden, the new president of the Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Federation (Cbaff), says border openings are positive news for airlines but freight capacity constraints will take years to overcome.
Madden thinks the true impacts of the Shanghai shutdown will also be only truly felt on the China-reliant New Zealand market in eight-to-10 weeks' time. There are also big bottlenecks to getting shipped products in and out of the US, she said, much of that attributed to the continued logjam at the west coast’s Port of Long Beach.
Madden (41) has had a 14-year career in freight forwarding, the last 10 as a senior manager and shareholder with First Global Logistics, the country’s main e-commerce logistics provider. First Global’s business is in the high volume, ‘low value’ parcel end of the market, goods that don’t attract import duties and are generally brought in via air freight. The firm has now been affected by not being able to get enough space in or out of NZ, on the back of less air traffic and spiking consumer e-commerce demand that has grown by as much as a quarter from pre-pandemic levels.
Before the pandemic, 80% of NZ’s air freight was carried in the cargo holds of passenger aircraft, aligned with strong growth in international passenger movements, which rose more than 50% from 2010, meaning that more air freight could be carried at a lower cost. "Border openings will get those flight numbers back up for Air New Zealand, but it remains an expensive option, so we're hoping to see other airlines operating soon."
For shippers, Ports of Auckland also remains a major headache, “particularly for smaller businesses who are often expected to cover the additional costs of a sailing blanking Auckland and ending up in Northport, or not being able to export from the South Island and having to truck or air deliver product to Auckland to meet export windows”.
Fix it now
She said the ‘revolving door’ of export booking windows was also a kiss of death, particularly for smaller businesses. “These are things that are occurring now and government needs to address those issues now. Small businesses can’t wait two to five years for a new ‘government strategy’, she said. That could include greater investment in port assets, as well as coastal shipping. “And as much as government doesn’t want to invest in roading, you have to have trucks pick up from a transport hub. So, if you train the containers to a centralised hub, you still need a hub to get it to and from the customer and we simply don’t have good enough roading infrastructure.”
Like NZ ports, one of the key themes within the freight forwarding and logistics industry is a chronic lack of skilled local or international people. She said First Global was "always short" of warehouse staff. “We’re carrying a high number of temps for us, but we prefer to invest in the ongoing training of our people.”
One of the biggest challenges at present, she said, was in securing qualified forklift and high reach drivers as well as truck drivers, and that’s “impacting across our supply chain”, even without the extra issue of omicron.
Both Madden and her vice-president on the 200 member advocacy group, Katrina Jenner of Jenners Worldwide Freight, are rarities in that they fill senior executive roles in a sector classed as 'male dominated'. "When I first started going to Cbaff conferences seven years ago, you could count the females in the room on one hand. It's changing but it's a slow process. "Females have struggled to have their voices heard, and so there are a number that leave the industry and they don’t return.”
Over the longer term, Madden would also like to see better gender balance in the industry during her tenure. “To be a good freight forwarder you need to be able to multi-task, and females by nature are more detail-oriented. I’m generalising now, but we’re also better at customer service.” Yet the number of females who take leadership roles remains small, she said.
She's also keen on providing more networking opportunities for younger and middle management team members coming through. “In this industry, it’s important to have support networks as you never know what kind of challenges are coming up.”