US – Ray LaHood, U.S Secretary of Transportation, is a busy man but one who is usually worth listening to and on Tuesday he acknowledged that he was aware that air cargo, an industry valued at $60 billion annually which delivers 35% of world trade by value (in excess of $5 trillion a year) yet which has traditionally struggled to find recognition with lawmakers and politicians. Mr LaHood assured delegates attending the 26th International Air Cargo Forum & Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia that the US Government now has its eye on the ball and was committed to helping the air freight community achieve the objectives of the forum’s organisers, the International Air Cargo Association (TIACA), recognising the vital importance of air freight to both employment levels and the economy.
The objectives Mr LaHood referred to include TIACA’s work in attempting to build closer ties with U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Association (TSA) as well as key bodies such as the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Secretary LaHood told the audience of senior executives from every area of the global air cargo supply chain:
“We are committed to your industry – because what’s good for air cargo is good for the US economy. A strong air cargo industry expands international trade and contributes to job creation and prosperity at home. We will continue to work hand-in-hand with you, our partners here at home and abroad. In order to accomplish President Obama’s goal, we need a thriving air cargo industry to help America’s leading industries move their products to market quickly and efficiently. We are strengthening the movement of freight across land, air and sea.”
The goal referred to is Obama’s ‘Five Year Plan’ with which the President attempts to double the country’s exports by 2015. Air cargo now accounts for 31% of the total value of U.S. exports and Secretary LaHood continued to say that the Department for Transport (DoT) was working hard to secure additional market openings for U.S. cargo companies around the world and assist the freight industry in obtaining full and free market access globally.
A large part of the DoT effort has been an attempt to create a better functioning transport system including the creation of the Freight Policy Council referred to in previous articles and whose purpose is to develop a national plan to improve freight movement in part funded by the 21st Century’ transportation bill signed into law this summer by President Obama giving the DoT $1.75 billion for its TIFIA loan program that can be put to work to improve the nation’s intermodal freight network.
LaHood also acknowledged the challenges which face the industry in the fields of security and markets closed to competition saying:
“We know that some foreign governments are still practicing protectionism in their markets, to the detriment of many. But we will continue to work hand in hand with you, our partners here at home and abroad to ensure that our dynamic and growing cargo industry continues to be a leader in the market, increasing global trade and creating jobs.”
Many overseas critics will note Mr LaHood’s statement somewhat ironically, free market access is sometimes not a favourite topic amongst US firms when faced with cheaper competition from outside and at times could be said to be a gold medallist when it comes to protectionism.
TIACA’s decision to hold its 50th anniversary event in Atlanta, where it staged its first ever air cargo forum in 1962, was welcomed by the Mayor of the city, Kasim Reed who noted the contribution air cargo makes to the economy, and added that the city had begun to welcome more manufacturers, especially in the auto industry, in part because of its strong air cargo connections where in Atlanta alone more than 19,000 direct and indirect jobs are related to air cargo operations. Mayor Reed pledged:
“I’ve made it a personal priority of my administration to make progress in the international air cargo arena. And we are going to make progress in that space every single day. Hartsfield-Jackson airport remains a strong market for air cargo carriers and it underscores our commitment to the air cargo industry, we are ready to be one of your strongest partners.”
TIACA’s membership, which spans the supply chain, has increased by 62% in the last two years and the Air Cargo Forum in Atlanta is the biggest event in its history with some 5,000 visitors from over 100 countries and 200 exhibitors. Michael Steen, Chairman of TIACA thanked the U.S. Government for its growing collaboration with the air cargo industry, adding that engagement and closer dialogue by government, lawmakers and industry would be better for consumers as well concluding:
“Collaboration is critical. Industry and governments need to work together. We want to engage in dialogue with governments and lawmakers around the world.”