Maersk has responded to a call by forwarders to share efforts to standardise digitisation through its TradeLens platform, saying it is “cultivating diverse membership” and welcomes all-comers.
This month, former DSV executive Steve Walker warned that the forwarding industry was at risk of losing out as shipping lines look to take control of data.
“Maersk announced it wants half its earnings to come from inland logistics; a bold statement without reassuring words for their customer base of forwarders,” wrote Mr Walker.
“I feel that the container shipping lines’ threat of removing the forwarder and gaining greater direct FCL market share, is in fact growing.
“And the threat is not about vessels, containers, rates, rebates or landside equipment, it is now driven by the one thing forwarders must keep control of – data.”
Pointing to Maersk’s TradeLens blockchain initiative, he added: “Here is a concerted effort, with multiple lines under the Maersk/IBM joint venture banner, offering a secure controlled end-to-end solution where documents are no longer exchanged physically or digitally, but instead, the relevant data is shared and distributed using blockchain technology under single ownership principles determined by the type of information.
“These very lines, who have been unable to give us any data, by phone or online are capable of leaping decades to seek control of a potential industry standard data flow mechanism.”
He asked if Maersk would allow Fiata to sit on an independent management board, “now that the carriers want to become one of us”, adding: “Therefore all data would reside under the control of an independent entity.”
Maersk issued a statement to The Loadstar in response, which, while not directly addressing that point, said it welcomed forwarders on to its platform.
“We are committed to embracing international standards and working with the bodies and organisations that help to drive digitisation broadly, such as the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) and the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT).
“We are also committed to cultivating diverse membership on the TradeLens advisory board to ensure TradeLens works for all.
“TradeLens is an open and neutral platform which brings together hundreds, and ultimately thousands, of separate trading partners with the common approach to sharing information and documents securely and quickly, as well as to connect and simplify customers’ supply chains.
“Freight forwarders have always been forerunners when it comes to adapting new technologies that drive innovation and increase efficiency. They provide valuable services, and TradeLens helps to facilitate these activities in the global shipping network. Freight forwarders and 3PL providers, like Agility, Livingston, WWA and Kerry Logistics, are already working with the platform.”
However, there are industry concerns that TradeLens could fall foul of antitrust authorities, and may need to work harder at member diversification and openness.
JOC noted last week that with five of the six biggest lines on board, “eventually, it’s likely that antitrust authorities will view these sorts of private blockchain consortia as no different from the cartels they are currently cracking down on”.
Private platforms such as TradeLens could be “viewed as providing advantageous trading access. This could run the risk of being seen to unfairly exclude competitors”, according to one law firm.
Eight forwarders or groups have now joined TradeLens, along with some 18 shipping lines, 28 ports and terminals, and 10 inland transport companies.
Mr Walker also suggested that another potential way forward would be for Fiata to become involved with Kuehne + Nagel’s Accenture platform.
“I hear instantly the negative response,” he wrote, “but if the lines can collaborate, in this fast-changing world, could we the forwarding community at least consider this? We do not have time to lose; we need a partner on this journey already.”
However, a K+N spokesperson told The Loadstar: “Kuehne + Nagel does not wish to comment.”
Fiata told The Loadstar last week it was broadly in agreement with Mr Walker and would meet him next month to discuss a way forward.