by M. Sigmund Shapiro
November 13, 2002

Recently, someone asked me to define the major challenge facing the logistics industry in 2003. This challenge can be answered in one word dear to the heart of the jazz musician: improvisation. The ability to anticipate problems has always been the forte of the logistics manager/freight forwarder, but in this era of unprecedented international unrest and turmoil, the practitioner has to be ready for anything, know how to wing it to keep the client in business, and deliver the cargo on time, if at all possible.

Security, be it “homeland” (I hate that word, but I guess it’s better than “national,” “internal” or “fatherland”) is going to be the modus operandi for these troubled times. One can bet that the rules will be changing every day. Both import and export cargo will be subject to intense scrutiny as overkill takes charge and will result in missed deadlines. The ability of the forwarder to keep the client informed and offer alternatives will tax his tracking systems, his talent, his patience and the patience of everyone else. As in stressful times past, frivolous decisions of individual administrators in the government sector loom large, and the ability to have them overturned will require speedy, intelligent resolution. This has never been government’s strong suit. Recall the import surcharge that Nixon imposed in the 70’s. If implemented as originally directed, it would have bankrupted importers and brokers alike. Only after it was “explained” to Treasury Secretary John Connolly in exquisite detail, did Nixon back off – and that took a week.

Be there no doubt that anxiety and mindless decision-making are going to drive international trade for the year 2003 and for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, we can only hope that peace will prevail.