Call for data-sharing to speed up e-commerce

A senior manager at Alibaba’s logistics subsidiary has called for greater data-sharing among airfreight stakeholders, while an official at the World Customs Organisation warned that criminals are exploiting the boom in e-commerce to traffic drugs and other illegal goods.
Roger Su, head of global network planning and operations Cainiao/Alibaba, told IATA’s World Cargo Symposium that he would encourage airlines, freight forwarders and ground handlers to “connect all the data together” to improve transparency and visibility of e-commerce goods.
Su shared the e-commerce session platform in Dallas with Ana Hinojosa, director compliance and facilitation World Customs Organisation (WCO), who described “a tsunami of small packages” and the “exponential growth of e-commerce volumes” worldwide.
Hinojosa, who said that the “e-commerce door has been opened and cannot be closed” also warned that criminal organisations are using the growth in e-commerce to traffic “drugs, weapons, counterfeit goods and wild animals”.
The e-commerce session, sponsored by Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport, heard from Su that some 80% of Alibaba volumes use the postal system for deliveries and that the service from the post offices has “improved a lot in terms of quality, speed and customer satisfaction”.
Alibaba, which has set a target of a 72-hour delivery cycle for goods worldwide, is working with IATA and the air cargo industry to achieve “visibility, transparency and traceability” of e-commerce shipments and to avoid “isolated islands” where data is not available.
Hinojosa said that the WCO is working on a solid risk management programme which would reduce the number of shipment inspections, but only if the organisation’s members had access to the correct data, adding “we have a long way to go”.
Data accuracy has been patchy, with many larger commercial shipments now split into individual pieces, while some goods are not being captured by the official statistics.
Saskia Van Pelt, director business development at Schiphol Cargo, said that e-commerce goods were not clearly identified and so it was hard to say accurately how much was moving through an airport.
She added that the airport was working with Dutch Customs on a system of pre-clearance for the high number of lower-value goods sent as e-commerce.
Asked specifically about bottlenecks at airports, Su said that the time in the air “was a given” but spoke of “idle time” on the ground where there was “much room for improvement” in the handover from ground handlers to Customs, blaming a “lack of data visibility” and a need for “all the players to share data”. 
He also said that there was a need for infrastructure investment and e-hubs to streamline customs clearance processes: “We need one standard of regulation for cross-border e-commerce traffic”.
The rise of e-commerce has seen a number of small and medium sized enterprises become involved in cross-border shipments, businesses that may lack the required regulatory knowledge of what can or cannot be shipped by air.
Both Su and Hinojosa agreed that such merchants required to be educated in the rules around dangerous goods shipments and prohibited items, alongside a vetting and review system to monitor compliance and revenue collection without slowing the flow of goods.
Van Pelt described the Safe and Secure Trade Lane experiment with Customs at Schiphol, currently applied only for general air cargo, which may offer a solution for e-commerce trade flows in the future.

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