Speaking at the recent TOC Americas Conference in Panama, TT Club’s Senior Underwriter Dan Negron outlined the future opportunities to diversify both the export and import supply chains in the US as the widening of the Panama Canal (due to become operational early next year) will allow larger container ships to transit from Asia to Gulf and Atlantic Coast ports.
Explaining how freight transport and logistics operators are adapting to provide increasingly efficient and economic options to shippers, Negron said, “Stakeholders are beginning to understand the complex relationships of functions within the intermodal system. Some have diversified to become multi-functional participants in the system. However, whether operators choose to act independently or to diversify in this way, all need to ensure that they engage in best practices to avoid systems failures and delays.”
Additionally Negron pointed out the need to consider potential congestion at pinch-points beyond the ports of entry as the domestic transport process to deliver goods is adapted to changes in routings to and from internal markets. The West Coast dominant intermodal network that has previously prevailed in serving Asian imports has had well documented congestion problems and care must be taken in avoiding similar failings as other alternative routes develop.
Negron put forward a number of operational guidelines in which the employment of best practice will particularly safeguard the integrity of the network. “While effective communications between participants along the distribution chain seems an obvious requirement it should be emphasised,” said Negron. “An understanding of the legal environment in which operational functions take place, including standard trading conditions and the contractual obligations of the various partners is also vital.”
The complexity of the supply chain may be typified by the various modal options available (road, rail and inland river/waterway in particular), each with differing logistical and contractual requirements. Thorough understanding of the multimodal facets of the evolving system is required, together with greater investment in training to raise skill levels. This depth of understanding must encompass the appreciation of seamless insurance cover that ensures protection against mishap within each stage of complex transport arrangements.