David Logan, CEO of the snappily-named South African Association of Freight Fowarders (SAAFF), explains why the good health of his organisation is essential to the restoration of the economy

Economically speaking 2010/2011 has been one of the most challenging in our country’s history. During this period many businesses have endured a ‘bleak winter’, which finally seems to be lifting.

There should still, nevertheless, be a note of caution, as the fragile conditions in the USA and UK, European debt crisis and recent Japanese nuclear disaster, still suggest that industry leaders need to remain vigilant for some time. We should also remember the political challenges on the African continent, which continue to exert pressure on businesses.

Furthermore, the regulatory environment has brought its own set of challenges with the Consumer Protection Act, new Companies Act and Draft Customs Bills remaining major concerns for the South African freight forwarding industry.

Keep your head above water

Freight forwarders operate in an industry that is hugely dynamic and constantly undergoing changes that have a profound effect on the way that we do business. We operate in a pressure cooker environment that demands our forwarders remain ahead of regulatory changes and demands, surf increasingly volatile economic waves, compete for skilled staff and invest in technology and innovation—all the while managing the business dynamics of running a successful business. Anyone who thought this was an easy entry industry needs to think again—especially if they want to last longer than a year!

Despite the tough trading climate of the last three years, SAAFF, along with many of its members and providers, have enjoyed many successes and important achievements on behalf of the industry.

New horizons

With the assistance of strategy consultant Dr. Ray Eberlein SAAFF has undergone a dramatic reinvention including a new vision, mission and value system.

During the process we analysed the forecasted political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal arenas, over the next five years, and how changes in these areas would impact on business and the association. The result has been a reinvention of the association, and its board, as an internationally recognised professional members’ organisation that facilitates international trade.

It’s vital to note that the transformation of our association is on-going and will continue to evolve in order to meet market demands and dynamics. The main objective of this reinvention is to transform SAAFF into a professional association representative of the Southern African transport industry, facilitating trade into and out of Southern Africa and, ensuring that members receive a value added service.

Qualifying

In addition to these projects SAAFF’s annual congress serves as amelting pot of all topical issues and challenges facing the industry, providing a platform to debate with renowned international and national speakers. This year’s conference was themed “Embracing change through innovation, collaboration and education” and proved a great success for delegates looking for thought leadership and input on business challenges currently facing the industry.

SAAFF also launched a Learnership in 2010 that invites candidates to complete the level 3 and level 4 certificates in ‘Customs Clearing and Forwarding’, giving them an international qualification and global mobility. The association is also due to launch the Higher Diploma in Supply Chain Management for those with an even greater appetite for studying.

The process of customs modernisation continues at a rapid pace with SAAFF having played an important role in assisting SARS to bring about many improvements and enhancements.  To assist our members, SAAFF fully sponsored a series of training sessions across the country during 2010, focussing on Customs Modernisation, all of which were oversubscribed. SAAFF’s invaluable role in this process was acknowledged on World Customs Day with an award, from the World Customs Organisation, for exceptional service to customs administration in South Africa.

Staying afloat

SAAFF’s many successes to date can be attributed to the incredible work of our Board members at national and branch levels, which freely give their time and expertise to execute the mandate of the association and deliver real, tangible business benefits to our members.

They also liaise closely with many government departments and parastatal institutions, dealing with a vast array of matters such as customs, port health, trade permits, border controls, export control of perishable products, cargo handling, security at harbour terminals and airports, plant quality, railway services and road freight legislation.

The Association also uses its collective voice to determine and recommend practical and effective responses to the many challenges in the business and regulatory frameworks which affect the commercial interests of clients. This would be impossible to achieve by only one individual company.

SAAFF is the vehicle by which members can, in a cost effective manner, secure consistent and effective representation on forums which influence their business.

The result is that technological and legislative developments do not compromise service quality and delivery, but rather enhance it, and that impediments to international trade are minimised.

In the future, as much as we seem to have shaken off the worst of the economic slowdown, recovery is still painstakingly slower than anticipated.  The market is certainly much smaller and there is significantly more competition among the key players. It makes perfect sense for the industry to be mobilised in a forum such as SAAFF, where it can collectively find solutions to challenges and resolve issues that, if tackled individually, would be virtually impossible.

Even the most agile forwarders will need to be highly responsive to market conditions if they are to prosper in the new economic environment. Fortunately SAAFF is perfectly poised to keep providing pivotal support to our members in the months and years ahead.