With 40 years of experience in international logistics and transport management, Babar Badat is the founding chair of the Pakistan International Freight Forwarders Association (PIFFA) and FIATA Immediate Past President.
What first sparked your interest in FIATA?
Babar Badat: PIFFA was setup in December 2004. The following year, PIFFA became a member of FIATA, as I felt that given the very nature of our business any national logistics association that wants to progress must connect internationally, so we must be connected with our global community. In 2007, I got the opportunity to participate at a higher level within FIATA by joining the Extended Board, and then a few years later the Presidency.
How would you say the Pakistan International Freight Forwarders Association has benefited from its FIATA membership?
BB: Connectivity is a big advantage; FIATA allows you to connect with people in a large global platform, which is very relevant. FIATA is a 100-year-old organisation with representation from some 150 countries. There is great value in its structure, with all the different working groups, institutes and advisory bodies. It also allows members to meet with people, industry leaders as well as newcomers from our industry, to network and exchange views on relevant issues. Furthermore, FIATA is a policymaking body, not a commercial organization. As we’re all business professionals, people in the industry may seek to get involved with FIATA due to commercial interests. However, FIATA plays an equally important role in policymaking, and that’s of great importance to the industry in every country.
At PIFFA, we were able to hold discussions with our national government regarding policies for the logistics industry and invoke best practices that were in line with FIATA’s recommendations. FIATA’s international best practices, being in coherence with the International Chamber of Commerce’s standards, help the industry’s advocacy, as governments are always interested in learning about them and this helps form policy.
During your time as President you were the architect and proposer of the ‘reset programme’ for FIATA. Can you tell us how this idea came about?
BB: When I came into the Presidency I was vocal about the need to change the way we conducted ourselves overall at FIATA. I could feel that the speed at which the world was moving was much faster than the speed at which FIATA itself was evolving at the time.
I asked myself, what do we bring to the table and how do we move forward? I always had the good counsel of experienced colleagues, including Francesco, Zhao and Jean-Claude, and other colleagues in the Presidency. Last year I discussed this at length at the Presidency, and eventually everyone agreed that we should move in the direction of change.
We then set out a plan on how to tackle this and presented it to the Extended Board. The number one priority was to get everyone to understand why we needed to relocate, then hire the people to do the work. We decided to move the organization to Geneva, as advocacy is an important part of our existence and Geneva is where it’s done. We hired a new Director General, Stéphane Graber, to execute the changes, as reshaping the structure in the secretariat was critical. We wanted a new team of younger people who understood the direction being given by the Presidency and who could take this forward – which is what we are now working on.
As outlined in the reset objectives, we need to update the amount of information that we send out from the secretariat. We need to better communicate with our members and other international organizations once we settle in Geneva. We need to increase the visibility of the organization’s work and of the industry itself, and to raise the profile of logistics in the public eye. For example, I remember engaging with the United Nations, when it was setting the Sustainable Development Goals, and we were able to highlight the importance of logistics, connectivity and the supply chain.
The Presidency and the Extended Board were convinced that FIATA must emerge as a strong and vibrant body for the world to engage with and we believe that this is the direction where the ‘reset programme’ will take us. This is an initiative that started during my tenure and it is now being continued very well by the current Presidency, and I’m sure that the next couple of terms will continue to push this along to accomplish the objectives.
For service providers in international trade logistics and supply chain management, change is a constant. What changes have you observed during your time in FIATA, whether short or long term, within the organization or at the national or global level?
BB: The logistics industry has evolved over the years. With the common use of the container, 90% of global commercial trade is now in containers, and it’s no longer a port-to-port activity, but rather a point-to-point, origin-to-final-destination activity.
Therefore, it’s multimodal, and because of this, the role of the logistics industry and the international freight forwarder is much larger. Shipping companies are no longer the primary carriage contractors, their role has shrunk and now they themselves feel the need to have their in-house logistics divisions. Many carriers have created their own logistic companies because they feel that international transportation today is not port-to-port, but point-to-point.
Here I must mention that the terminology has changed; the term ‘international freight forwarder’ may be not that up to date; ‘logistics company’ or ‘logistics operator’ is more relevant today. The world will change after COVID-19.
What do you see as the future challenges for FIATA and its members over the next two years and how can these be overcome? How do we build resilience from here?
BB: There’s no doubt that the pandemic will affect many around the world. Our industry will be very affected, because we are at the frontline of international trade. The question that will make the difference is how each organization reacts to the crisis and emerges after it. How we communicate, how we meet, how we interact, how we transact, how we consume, how we sell, how we buy – all of this will be affected, including the supply chain, which is an integral part of all the above. It will be our job to see how we can bring efficiency and expertise to bear there on.
Certainly, the fundamentals will change. The airfreight business, how shipping is done, how deliveries are carried out in road transport, rail business, the emergence of the last mile – everything will be different. We’re living through defining moments and in most of this change, technology will be critical. Even at the basic level like our meeting processes, these have already changed with the aid of technology. Today we no longer fly out, we ‘Zoom’ instead, and this may remain. Many things will continue to evolve at a very fast pace, and we’ll have to wait and see how it turns out – but change is definite.
FIATA is a hybrid membership organization, with National Association and Individual Members, most of which are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). How does FIATA meet these diverse interests? What are the advantages or perhaps disadvantages of this structure?
BB: It’s difficult to comment on this – however, I will say that once we’ve gone through the reset programme and setup what we need, our aim is to push for larger membership. Some of the countries where the National Associations are members, they can help push to get more individual members to join FIATA.
Many countries have hundreds of companies operating that are members of a National Association, but they’re not members of FIATA. We’d therefore like our member National Associations to be ambassadors in their respective countries, to increase the base of our organization with a larger membership of both large companies and SMEs.
Any final thoughts for FIATA’s members and partners on the way forward for the organization?
BB: Within FIATA, I’d like to ask people to support the secretariat and turn a new leaf in the way we work. As for our members, I’d like to request them to wait and see. See the changes that we initiated, as they’ll be of great benefit to everyone. If an organization doesn’t move on then, over time, it enters the realm of irrelevance. The industry will see a lot of changes, and I’d like FIATA to be a platform for the global industry to engage with each other, as well as with the relevant multilateral organizations, and bring value to international commerce for global prosperity.