The Global Shippers Forum, which held its first annual meeting last week in Atlanta, is developing an advisory service for shippers trying to improve their contracts.
Chris Welsh, secretary-general of GSF, said the service will be based on one rolled out by the Freight Transport Association in the United Kingdom early this summer after a year and a half of development with a group of shippers and maritime lawyers.
The service provides shippers of containerized cargo with a "framework contract" with about 50 clauses "covering every possible contractual eventuality that a shipper may come across."
From that framework, shippers "pick and choose what they feel is relevant," Welsh explained.
Shippers are provided with a questionnaire where they detail their traffic flows, volumes, carriers, and special needs--for example, whether they are moving refrigerated cargo, or hazardous cargo, need high cube boxes or special security arrangements.
That information is then used to give advice to shippers about things they might want to include in their contracts with carriers. Shippers can then use that advice and work with their own attorneys to develop an agreement with carriers or the FTA will assist them in developing a "bespoke contract with appropriate legal drafting and advice on how to approach the contract with a carrier," if necessary using attorneys it has engaged.
Welsh said a handful--but "but quite significant"--shippers have availed them of the FTA service today and another 50 have expressed interest.
The service would be available to members of the various national shippers associations of the GSF, including the National Industrial Transportation League in the United States.
Peter Gatti, executive vice president NIT League, said the service is not available immediately to U.S. shippers but expected it would be "fairly soon," noting the GSF was only formalized as a new organization this spring.
"Looking at a model framework of service contracts, that is certainly one of the things that would be a high priority," he said. But he said "there are a lot of variables to be considered. It is not just simply saying you just go through this checklist and you'll be good for every trade lane in which you do business."
There are a lot of considerations, for example in the the U.S. trade, that you have to keep in place based on what the law and the Shipping Act provides. For example. there are certain essential terms that must be provided that may not have to be in contracts outside of the U.S.," he explained.
"It's not just simply saying here is your be all and end all check list that one size fits all. Contracting by its very nature is supposed to be a customized arrangement between the customer and the supplier in terms of the specific needs that each have," he said.