The role of the ‘freight forwarder’, alternatively called the ‘shipping and forwarding’ or ‘clearing and forwarding’ agent, is to ensure that cargo is transported across international boundaries in the most efficient and economical way. There are many related ancillary services that agents undertake to ensure this objective, such as documentation, customs clearance, booking of cargo space, packing, etc.
The agent should be able to advise the exporter on the following aspects:
- the best mode of transport for the goods, whether by sea, air, rail, road or a combination of these
- schedule and transit times of the various transport services
- the most suitable packing
- rates and insurance premiums
- freight rates
- costing for export
- compliance with maritime and other statutory obligations
- marking of cargo and
- all technical aspects of international forwarding
Agents also handle: Customs clearance, including related documentation needs and exchange control requirements, and any other permits required by law.
Most agents have an international network of branch offices or associates, which enables them to give advice on the importing country’s regulations.
Since the advent of multimodal forms of transport, South African agents have developed very close links with overseas forwarders, and are able to give advice on all international movements and provide an international door to door service.
Some agents offer groupage services, whereby they receive cargo from various suppliers at the agents’ warehouses and consolidate these consignments into full container loads for delivery to one destination overseas. In this case, one ocean bill of lading is issued by the container operator, and the agent in turn issues ‘house bills of lading’ to the individual exporters.
In South Africa, most agents of repute are members of regional associations which are affiliated to the South African Association of Freight Forwarders SAAFF. These associations have a list of fees for the functions performed by members.