Indian Transport & Logistics

Indian freight forwarding: Bridging global trade gaps

Indian freight forwarding: Bridging global trade gaps
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India's e-commerce is set to hit $350 billion by 2030! With the surge in online orders, Indian freight forwarders are stepping up to provide efficient fulfilment solutions, utilising technology for seamless operations, ready to be the backbone of this boom.

Imagine a bustling marketplace where goods from all corners of the world change hands. Behind the scenes, a complex network of logistics keeps everything moving. Indian freight forwarders are the busy bees in this hive, ensuring cargo reaches its destination smoothly and efficiently.

Freight forwarding involves more than just moving items. It includes tasks like choosing the best transport method and handling customs to ensure timely delivery. But it goes beyond that. Consider the scenario where someone needs to send delicate medical equipment overseas. It's not just a matter of finding any available aircraft; it's about maintaining the right temperature throughout the journey. Here come the freight forwarders, they arrange for specialised containers and closely monitor the temperature, working behind the scenes to ensure the equipment arrives intact, potentially saving lives in the process.

India's international trade is thriving, and efficient freight forwarding plays a crucial role. With its strategic location and burgeoning economy. According to data released by the commerce ministry, the country's exports of goods and services saw a marginal increase of 0.4 percent to $765.6 billion in 2023, despite global economic uncertainties. Key contributing sectors to this growth included electronics, pharmaceuticals, cotton yarn, fabrics, ceramics, meat, dairy, poultry, fruits, vegetables, and information technology.

India has the potential to emerge as a global trade powerhouse. Robust logistics are vital to sustain this momentum, and Indian freight forwarders are ready to tackle this challenge.

Indian freight forwarders customise their services to meet the needs of their clients. They specialise in transportation via air, sea, and land, utilising partnerships with airlines, shipping lines, and trucking companies to find efficient routes.

Accuracy in paperwork is crucial. Freight forwarders ensure all documents comply with international regulations, expediting customs clearance and avoiding delays.

Warehousing offers temporary storage for goods in transit. Indian providers offer secure warehouses with inventory management and order fulfilment services. In addition to core services, many offer extras like packaging, insurance, and real-time cargo tracking. They also guide import/export rules, duties, and free trade agreements, simplifying the process.

The Indian freight forwarding industry isn't a lone wolf operation. It thrives on collaboration and guidance provided by industry associations. The Federation of Freight Forwarders' Associations in India (FFFAI) sets standards, provides training, and lobbies for government support. Continual training programmes offered through FFFAI’s Training Institute, the Indian Institute of Freight Forwarders (IIFF), are benefiting the logistics fraternity by enhancing operational skills.

When it comes to challenges like any other industry, the Indian freight forwarding industry also faces its own set of hurdles. “Indian freight forwarding companies grapple with a multitude of challenges that hinder their operations and profitability. Infrastructure constraints loom large, with India's roads, railways, ports, and airports in dire need of substantial improvement. This deficiency results in delays, inefficiencies, and escalated costs for freight movement, posing a constant obstacle for forwarders. Moreover, the adoption of modern technology and digital tools remains a struggle for many companies.

"With the rapid growth of e-commerce in India, there is a surge in demand for efficient freight forwarding services."
Vipin Vohra, Continental Carriers

The lack of technological prowess inhibits efficient operation management, shipment tracking, and logistics optimisation, ultimately impeding competitiveness. High infrastructure costs further compound the issue, with expenses related to warehousing, transportation, and handling facilities eating into profits. Balancing cost-effectiveness with service quality remains an ongoing challenge.

Moreover, airports in India grapple with congestion during peak periods, leading to delays in cargo handling and longer turnaround times for shipments. Such congestion incurs heightened operational costs for freight forwarders. Off late, the transshipment of cargo from Bangladesh to international destinations through Indian airports has added to the congestion at the Airports, as the peak season for garment export both in India and Bangladesh is the same i.e., January to April, every year.

Lastly, the unpredictable nature of freight charges by airlines poses a significant threat to profitability. Sudden increases in freight rates, driven by factors like fuel prices and demand-supply dynamics, can severely impact forwarders, especially if they cannot pass on these costs to their customers. These challenges collectively underscore the complexity of the operating environment for Indian freight forwarding companies, necessitating strategic responses to ensure sustainability and growth,” says Vipin Vohra, Chairman of Continental Carriers.

Additionally “Instability in the geopolitical environment can affect the demand for freight forwarding services and impact the business. In times of economic uncertainty, focusing on cost management and maximising profitability is crucial. Hence, building solid relationships with customers and offering them value for their business is another way to manage economic challenges. It might increase the likelihood that they will continue to do business with you in the future, even during economic uncertainty, states Ashish Asaf, Managing Director & CEO, S.A. Consultants & Forwarders.

Amid these challenges, data paints a promising picture for Indian freight forwarders. Reports indicate that India's e-commerce market will hit a staggering $350 billion by 2030, fueled by growth in Tier II and III cities. This translates to a massive demand for efficient fulfilment solutions, presenting a wealth of opportunities for the industry. Furthermore, the World Trade Organization (WTO) forecasts a 3.5% growth in global merchandise trade for 2024, signifying a continued rise in international trade flows. This translates to significantly increased cargo volumes that Indian freight forwarders can handle.

“With the rapid growth of e-commerce in India, there's a surge in demand for efficient freight forwarding services to handle the increasing volume of shipments. Freight forwarders are adapting their operations to cater to the specific needs of e-commerce businesses, such as last-mile delivery solutions and reverse logistics, highlights Vohra of Continental Carriers.

"Instability in the geopolitical environment can affect the demand for freight forwarding services and impact the business."
Ashish Asaf, S.A Consultants & Forwarders

The Indian freight forwarding industry is undergoing a digital & AI revolution. Technology is playing a crucial role in streamlining processes, enhancing transparency, and improving customer service. Manual paperwork is being replaced by sophisticated software and digital platforms that automate tasks like bookings, documentation, and customs compliance. This not only reduces errors and saves time, but also ensures smoother operations throughout the supply chain.

Furthermore, the Internet of Things (IoT) and GPS are enabling real-time tracking and visibility of shipments. This empowers both freight forwarders and their clients to stay informed about the exact location and status of their cargo. This real-time data allows for proactive management of potential issues and fosters greater trust between all parties involved.

Technology is also simplifying the complexities of customs clearance and regulatory compliance. Electronic data interchange (EDI) systems and other digital tools are making the process faster and more efficient, saving both freight forwarders and businesses valuable time and money.

“The role of data analytics has already been there in our trade for some time now, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a newly coined term these days. However similar algorithms were already in use in Indian Customs when they initiated the Risk Management System (RMS) a few years ago. The airlines and shipping carriers as well use these kinds of analytics and algorithms for their product pricing in the way of Dynamic pricing tools.

Moving forward these algorithms or AI will help governments to evaluate the compliances and companies to gain maximum profits by dynamic pricing strategies. Eventually, it could lead to a one-sided game in a bullish market, as carriers are sitting with a vast amount of data of cargo types and routes that are regularly moving. Better, faster global connections allow AI to be more accurate than ever before, and when applied to air cargo, it will help forwarders make the most use of data. By avoiding risks and creating more efficient solutions, AI maximises resources and slashes costs,” mentions Ashish of S.A. Consultants & Forwarders.

The rise of digital freight forwarders is another key trend driven by technology. These companies leverage automation across the entire shipping process, offering a more transparent and streamlined experience for their clients. As a result, the Indian digital freight forwarding market is expected to witness significant growth in the coming years.

“The future of Indian freight forwarding holds promise, bolstered by several key factors. Firstly, in view of the implementation of the National Logistics Policy under PM Gati Shakti's National Master Plan, sustained economic growth is anticipated to drive increased trade volumes both domestically and internationally, thereby generating heightened demand for freight forwarding services. Additionally, ongoing infrastructure development initiatives, including investments in ports, airports, and logistics parks, are poised to enhance the efficiency of freight movements, fostering greater competitiveness within the industry. These factors underscore a bright outlook for the Indian freight forwarding sector, encouraging forward-thinking strategies and investments to capitalise on emerging opportunities and drive sustainable growth,” remarks Vohra of Continental Carriers.

Parijat Sourabh

Parijat Sourabh

As a news correspondent at STAT Media Group, I leverage my previous experience as an Editorial Journalist with Republic Media Network. Please feel free to contact me at:

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