Agents’ should be specified
The ongoing IATA e-freight exercises have two sides. On the one hand, IATA has huge projection about the benefits of e-freight practices and on the other hand, there are some gray areas about tangible benefits for the freight forwarders/air cargo agents. According to IATA, e-freight allows to lower costs by eliminating paper handling and processing costs; speed-up services by reducing cycle time of an average of 24 hours; improve reliability and accuracy through onetime electronic data entry at a point of origin; gain visibility as electronic documentations allow for online track and trace functionality. It also facilitates Advance Electronic Information (AEI) requirements for security purpose. Meanwhile, the air cargo industry in India is gearing up to implement e-freight. Some airlines have already decided to exercise e-freight practices. Freight forwarders community too, has created a technology platform called UPLIFT in this regard. The Government of India has signed the ICAO protocol MC99. India Customs has an e-commerce platform called ICEGATE, which allows electronic filing of import & export documents, though it still requires the submission of paper Customs Declarations and paper Support Documents! Nevertheless, Indian freight forwarders are in quandary regarding the actual benefits. Since (as many agents feel) e-freight is not a standalone option and unless all stakeholders of the supply chain are linked by a common user facility, it would be difficult for them to harness benefits. It should also be mentioned that in India, in spite of 15 years of customs EDI initiatives, the entire process is still in a rudimentary stage and depended on paper declarations. Certifications have also not been brought down. There has to be forwarders-related benefits to readily embrace e-freight. Developing software and complying with e-freight would mean extra expenses for the forwarders. IATA should also think seriously, why e-freight has still not picked up in India and its penetration is even less than two per cent of international freight worldwide. Only then the industry can expect 100 per cent eAWB implementation by 2015.