About Freight-Forwarding

What is freight forwarding and what do forwarders do?

FIATA adopted and published the following definition in 2004:

Freight forwarding and logistics services 

"Freight forwarding and logistic services" are services of any kind relating to the carriage (performed by single mode or multimodal transport means), consolidation, storage, handling, packing or distribution of goods, as well as ancillary and advisory services in connection therewith, including but not limited to customs and fiscal matters, declaring the goods for official purposes, procuring insurance of the goods and collecting or procuring payment or documents relating to the goods. Freight forwarding services also include logistic services with modern information and communication technology in connection with the carriage, handling or storage of the goods, and de facto total supply chain management. These services can be tailored to meet the flexible application of the services provided.

Freight forwarding is all about the facilitation of international trade. The freight forwarder is the party who ensures that internationally traded goods move from point of origin to point of destination to arrive:

  • at the right place
  • at the right time
  • in good condition
  • at the most economical cost

To accomplish this, expertise is required in a number of different areas:


Close cooperation is required with transporters in every mode – road, rail, sea and air. Freight forwarders are constantly negotiating freight rates and service conditions with transport providers, comparing the costs of moving cargo along different routes via different modes and then designing logistics service chains, which provide the best compromise between cost, speed and reliability.

Regulatory compliance

A vital ingredient to successfully trading between world markets is that every transaction must comply with many regulatory measures and requirements, sometimes carrying fairly complex procedures, especially those associated with customs and security. In the area of regulatory compliance, the specialised skills and knowledge of the freight forwarder come to the fore.

Traders who avail themselves of the service of skilled freight forwarders find the assistance they need to make their trade efficient, secure and compliant.

Risk management

To every international trade transaction, there is an element of risk and the increased complexity of international trading as compared to local buying and selling requires that these risks are managed with tools which are correspondingly more sophisticated. International traders require that their forwarders be in position to advise and assist them in minimising those risks which are particularly associated with the movement of goods – loss, damage and destruction, although the exposure of forwarders to the international environment in its entirety makes their counsel as regards matters like credit and currency risks very much sought after.

Finance and payment

Forwarders are entrusted with goods which are often dispatched under conditions where buyer and seller are not known to one another. Under these circumstances, the forwarder must scrupulously ensure that all requirements of the door-to-door operation are fully complied with, especially where the accurate and timely production of documentation is concerned. Excellence in this field leads to prompt settlement for goods purchased, and satisfied traders. An especially gratifying aspect of freight forwarding is the facilitation, through consultancy and networking, of the entry of new exporters and importers into new markets. More often than not, this involves advice as to alternative methods of financing for the transactions concerned and the establishment of payment methods that are mutually beneficial to both parties.

Cross functional integration

The forwarder is ideally placed to act as the catalyst to maximise the benefit from advances in information technology which are revolutionising modern traders’ processes. Furthermore, the role of the forwarder will be key because, in adopting cross functional integration strategies, companies are increasingly outsourcing their non-core activities. The ability to ensure the efficient and effective door-to-door movement of goods from country to country, from the time an order is placed until finished goods are delivered to the intended consignee, places the freight forwarder in a position to make a unique contribution to the enhancement of the value of the traded goods.