There are major disruptions in global trade due to factors like trade wars and Brexit, according to Babar Badat, president of the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA).
"Protectionism is occurring and the premise of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is being challenged," he said at the opening of the FIATA conference in Cape Town on Wednesday. "These are times with challenges we have never seen before. It means the reduction of trade and our industry is affected in the front line."
He said for FIATA – the largest organisation in the logistics and supply chain industry in the world – seamless connectivity is very important.
"Governments need to put investment into infrastructure and the private sector must have good connections with governments and associations to create seamless trade connections," said Badat.
"We must have collective thinking in our industry for trade to grow."
Risk of eroding previous gains
Basil Pietersen, chair of the South African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF) agreed that no one can do anything on his or her own in this industry.
"We have to come together to build this industry. If we do not do that, all the hard work we have done over the years would have been for nothing," said Pietersen.
"The industry is changing and market dynamics all over the world calls for rethinking due to technology."
Free trade crucial
DA member of Parliament Geordin Hill-Lewis told delegates that it was critical to keep on making a good case for free trade.
"Beyond the personalities involved in global trade disputes we have to make the case for why free trade is good for the poorest of the poor in the developing world. The evidence is unquestionable," said Hill-Lewis.
"More open trade has yielded the greatest increase in wellbeing for our common society across the globe."
He would like to see SA focusing more on trade with other African countries. Currently only 10% of SA trade is with other African countries.
"We hear of the difficulty SA companies face to move goods further north into Africa. That is why we are excited about the African free trade agreement and we are trying to push that, because we have to focus on easier and faster intra-Africa trade," said Hill-Lewis.