|Vol. 22 No. 38||
Tuesday October 31, 2023
FIATA Happyness Expo.be
On the first day of the FIATA 2023 World Congress in Brussels, on my way to the congress venue, I shot a picture of a building on my left hand side. The HAPPINESS exhibition had nothing to do with the FIATA Congress itself, but seeing this note as I was climbing up to the Mont des Arts was in a way auspicious. I also think that this is a typical way of putting things Belgian: art makes you happy, at least according to the WHO: so let's put it on display and everyone will be happy, period. That was just the beginning of this week-long congress that was able to glue its participants to their seats.
The catchphrase “the changing climate of logistics” was perfect to conjure a congress where everything had changed before it even started. Not only has the pandemic taken logistics by hand and exposed its best and worst moments in recent times, but COVID had changed everything for the Brussels Congress, too, as Forward Belgium convened the gathering two years after its due time.
Well, FIATA2023 had not been spoiled in the meantime. Everything, really everything was brilliant, starting from the opening ceremony, which kicked off the public part of the congress three or four days after the accredited delegates had started working on their own specific sessions and functions on Oct 1st 2023.
Let me say that only FIATA could recreate the appropriate atmosphere to attract and gather (as conveniently announced by the FIATA DG at the opening) 650 participants, 27 meetings and sessions, 44 sponsors and exhibitors and . . . 300 minutes of coffee breaks, which, far from promoting Belgian coffee which cannot compete with Belgian chocolate, in reality had been a perfect respite to catch up with old friends, make new ones, canvass rewarding business and promote, for example, the bid for the next Congress. Antonella Straulino and her colleagues of FEDESPEDI are taking the centennial celebration to Italy with the FIATA2026 in Milan.
If you think that 650 participants are not very many by FIATA standards, after COVID this is almost a feat. In addition, the evident rust that was blocking many delegates after an almost three year’s hiatus was less and less perceptible as the days moved on toward the end. No more rust, just smiles and dancing on Thursday Oct 4th at the magnificent Gala Dinner held in the Auto World museum. Unlike many old cars on display that remained silent on the lower floor, younger and older FIATA delegates ate, drank and boogied with passion upstairs, experiencing a sense of togetherness that had been absent in recent times due to many circumstances over which they had had no control.
Coming back to the opening, the outgoing President Ivan Petrov gave a welcome speech that briefly recapped the FIATA journey in his two years’ tenure: sustainability, knowledge and training required to be equipped for future challenges, digitisation, international relations, all have seen FIATA become leader in its own field, as our friend Ivan noted. It was also observed that freight forwarders cannot build the infrastructure itself, but they provide “software”.
The new digital edition of the FIATA handbook was publicised for members’ attention and guidance. This comprehensive presentation was followed by the detailed key-note that Kunio Mikuriya, (right) the Secretary General of the World Customs Organisation, who communicated without hesitation, stressing the importance of the cooperation with the private sector, where FIATA excels in cooperation. FORWARD Belgium’s President Jef Hermans welcomed all participants to his home country, together with the President of FORWARD Belgium Young, Ms. Tia Meyvis, noting that they gathered in Belgium for the 5th time in the 97 years that FIATA counts since its inception in Vienna. Different challenges and important responsibilities need to be met by younger and older freight forwarders in the changing climate we live in. It was interesting, informative and the crown followed with plucked up ears, but the best was yet to come: if there was ever a need to show how digital and real come together in our minds, today as never before, the speechless FIATA audience witnessed a combination of inventive storytelling, state of the art audio-visuals, inspiring ballet, and also parcels, trains, ships, travel, logistics, all in a perfect tempo that left the spectators bewildered and amused. The modern ballet show combined with Luna’s dream story to build a flying machine projected on the screen was pure art: happiness.be. We were not done yet: the director of Belgian Customs also had his own show and, evoking one of the brightest and most successful sci-fi movies, asked whether those in attendance would want to take the blue pill and forget all about it or the red one and know all that the future had put in stack for them: digitisation, big data, AI, etc. I am not sure whether I liked the ballet show or the Customs part more; maybe I also have the Customs bug, as the South African YFFYA winner said in his interview we published on LinkedIn. It surely was an opening with a bang, one of the best I remember.
Ballet, Brussels . . . Let me open a small window here: when I lived in Brussels I bought an apartment in Rue de la Fourche, close to La Monnaie just to discover that I had purchased the apartment where Maurice Béjart had lived in his Brussels phase (ballet du XXe siècle). It was a grandiose attic with breathtaking timber ceilings. As I was about to move in, I was exhorted to sell the house to the Municipality of Brussels so they could make a Béjart Museum. No loss for me, a gain for culture I thought and then sold. On Wednesday I walked back into the building with anticipation, but I was saddened by the apparent neglect of the area. I was struck by the enterprising lady who runs the school though: she is young, energetic, with her graceful dancers around her and . . . looking for sponsorship for keeping the institution in gear, I wished her to get all the success in this errand as she deserved.
Let us go back to the congress: 18,000 steps a day, good for your exercise. That was my way of getting to the Plenary Session, which boasted a notable line-up of brains on stage. This is how FIATA introduced it: “This panel of industry experts will discuss future bottlenecks and strategies post-COVID, and provide you with insights into digitalisation solutions. This session will be your chance to gain a valuable SME practitioner's perspective on data reliance, customs digitalisation, and the need for standards. Speakers will explore larger organisations' insights into the energy transition's impact, challenges for asset-light forwarders, and the importance of common standards. Plus, our experts will provide more understanding on the significance of resilient supply chains and the journey toward carbon neutrality.”
I noted only a few of the many statements that were made, and obviously I am here to stand corrected if anything has not been understood in the way that it was meant. It will suffice to make contact with the FlyingTypers. After an energetic presentation given by Jo Caudron, the Chair Poul Hansen of UNCTAD stated that trade is more or less back at pre-Covid levels. Prof. Theo Notteboom observed that port productivity is now better than pre-Covid, but not the inland connections. The logistics landscape is changing rapidly and uncertainty grows. Geoffrey Powell of NCBFFA explained inter alia the importance of the Single Window in the USA and some of the challenges that remain to be addressed. “We need to get involved to get good standards,” he stated. Margi Van Gogh of the WEF thanked FIATA for its leadership in our sector. Collective action is required to make an impact and multi-stakeholder collaboration would be key: sustainability is not a competitive item.
Frank Bauer of Lufthansa observed the progress on digitization, but “we still need one standard”, wondering “how can we show the positive contribution of our industry to the public.” But he assured: “We shall not see an electric aircraft in the next twenty years, but a lot can be done to improve.” He also noted that the regulatory environment is becoming more and more imposing on operators and should be designed more on the implementation side, which is a statement that might have senta shiver down the spine of some of those in the attendance, at least in my own understanding.
Poul Hansen exhorted to take notice that “there is a developing world out there and four billion people are putting pressure” on existing structures. The usual interactive appraisal of the debate within the audience closed this first debate, which managed to put more information on the table than many would have expected.
After lunch, the Young Logistics Professional Talk Show followed, presenting the accomplishments of the FIATA young professionals, with excellent presentations given by the regional winners. All were brilliant and I am surprised that each and every year we get better and better results: we even managed to publish a video where the winners share their thoughts with the FlyingTypers.
This is how FIATA presented the session: “Meet with the younger
generation and be part of the ongoing competition of the Young Logistics
Professionals Award 2023. The regional winners shared their passion for
logistics through a dynamic talk show! Keynote speaker Christian Clauwers
inspirid with his address on the topic of climate change and its consequence
on logistics operations.”I must stress that the introductory presentation
given by Christian Clauwers (right) on the research and findings
that emerge from his precious work in Antarctica and elsewhere were staggering.
If anyone fancies denying the simple facts of climate change happening
before our eyes, please listen to the science that emerges from Clauwers’s
data and absorb.
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