Established in 1976, Cargo Consolidators Agency Limited is a full-service freight forwarding, logistics and consolidation company. Managing director Ronald Patience sat down with The Report Company to discuss the evolution of Trinidad and Tobago’s transport industry and his ambitions for the company’s growth.
The Report Company: How has Trinidad and Tobago’s transportation sector evolved in recent years?
Peter Patience: Over the last few years there have been a lot of new companies entering the market. The industry is not regulated by the government so it’s very easy to enter. While experience and reputation help to get business, the sector has become a lot more price competitive over the last few years than it was previously. A lot of importers in Trinidad are focusing on price rather than service at the moment, so it’s more cost driven now which was not traditionally the case. There are also some challenges with the service at the ports not being efficient due to congestion at times.
Despite these challenges, we have grown significantly over the last 5 years and have doubled in size. Although sales did slow down over the last year and a half, we’re seeing growth again so we’re looking forward to the next year or two.
We have been trying to diversify our market away from mainly oil and gas and petrochemicals into other sectors including manufacturing. We’ve also been looking at new avenues for business as most importers in Trinidad are purchasing out of the US traditionally but now they’re starting to purchase more out of Europe, in particular Germany and Italy. There’s also a lot of stuff coming in from China and the Far East through Panama. We’ve been looking a lot at trying to build our transhipments in Trinidad. We do a lot of containerised consolidations into the CARICOM region and what we’ve found is that there’s a market for transhipment through Trinidad for LCL (Less Container Load) cargo and we’re trying to build that from Europe and Panama.
TRC: What reforms do you think should be made in order to improve the ease of doing business and foster the growth of the transportation sector?
PP: They should try to make the port operate on a profitable level. If there is no mandate for the port to make profits then it will continue to be inefficient. The ports around the region can be extremely efficient and profitable so there’s no reason Port of Spain can’t be. It’s a case of changing the mind-sets. We could certainly do with some emphasis on improving efficiencies.
TRC: CCA has over 35 years’ experience in the transportation business and has become a full-service freight forwarding logistics company. What has been the strategy behind your growth?
PP: I believe what has allowed us to achieve our growth is the fact that we offer global solutions. We have a very strong network of partners and agents throughout the world in almost every major city, so we can offer customers a similar level of service from any origin whereas a lot of the forwarders in Trinidad are very specialised and will only offer Miami to Trinidad for example, very specific routes. While we do have those routes that are very strong, our network throughout the world gives us the opportunity to serve the big oil and gas companies and the multinationals who are purchasing from all over the world. We can offer the same level of service regardless of the location and that is where our strength lies. We have a very good reputation throughout the country and throughout the industry. Often, other forwarders and customers who may not use us all the time come to us when they have difficult or technical shipments because they know we can get it done.
We also focus a lot on training. We have a relatively low rate of turnover which has kept the in-house knowledge base very deep. We spend a lot of energy on keeping our staff current with new laws and regulations. For example, customs has been implementing a new system over the last few years and we are totally up to date with it. We were actually one of the companies they came to when they were testing the system. We try to keep at the forefront in terms of what services we are offering and what technology we are using. We are in the process now of rolling out a completely new freight management system to run the company’s entire business. This will give us much better reporting capabilities as well as online tracking.
“The sector has become a lot more price competitive over the last few years than it was previously. A lot of importers in Trinidad are focusing on price rather than service at the moment, so it’s more cost driven now which was not traditionally the case.”Tweet This
One of the things that have kept us strong in the market has been our dedication to integrity. We won’t just do the easy thing but we will do what’s the right thing to do. A lot of companies all over the world prefer to deal with us because of that philosophy. They know that CCA is compliant where all of the laws and international standards are concerned. The US and the UK have been leaders in pushing anti-corruption policies and laws and a lot of the multinational companies have a very big focus now on compliance, so we have spent a lot of time making sure that our staff is trained and that all of our in-house regulations and policies are in line with the international standards. In the US, the big thing is the FCPA (Federal Corrupt Practices Act) which focuses on the bribery of government officials. We’ve spent a lot of time ensuring that in every aspect of our business we are compliant with that, as well as with the UK laws. The UK’s anti-bribery act is the strictest standard in the world right now, and complying with it has been paying dividends for us because that is what the multinational companies want to see. If you can’t pass the audit or the compliance tests then you can’t do business, so that is what we’ve been focussing on.
TRC: What are your key business locations?
PP: Houston, Miami, Rotterdam, Panama, Toronto and the UK are our key lines for Trinidad. We have niche market forwarders that we work with who really focus on our market in Trinidad and we also work one of the top ten global forwarders whose network gives us capabilities in every country of the world. We have a full global coverage.
TRC: Is there any particular market that you’re interested in?
PP: We are interested in North America, CARICOM and Panama. We’re looking at trying to improve our China service right now; we’re looking at some improvement with our UK service and we are focussing on Europe – in particular Italy, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, France and Spain, because there’s a lot of cargo moving out of that region to Trinidad. There is also a lot coming from Brazil. Colombia has also grown over the last few years.
TRC: CCA has a partnership with Aviation Business Limited. What does that agreement entail?
PP: Aviation Business Limited (ABL) was established about four years ago and CCA had got involved with them in a partnership level with some investment so we’ve maintained some preferential arrangements. ABL was the first warehouse in Trinidad to offer a 24 hour service for imports. Our arrangement with them has helped us to grow in the energy sector and petrochemicals sector over the years because a lot of the cargo from those sectors is critical movements; it’s time-sensitive and many times they can’t wait one day for it to clear. We’ve been able to save some customers large amounts of money in overtime charges as a result and we’ve been able to improve the efficiency in terms of how quickly they clear shipments.
We are focussed a lot on the petrochemical sector; Trinidad is a big producer of methanol and ammonia, so we deal with a lot of those manufacturers and moving plant machinery and spares is a big part of our business right now. We don’t get involved in the bulk export; what we focus on is the import of raw material, parts, spares, machinery and equipment for the plants.
TRC: What are the next steps for CCA, what plans do you have for the future?
PP: We expect growth over the next two to three years. We have been going through a period of a year or two of retooling and improving internal processes and systems. Our growth overall in the last five years has been good and we are expecting that over the next two to three years we will grow significantly. We are looking at increasing the transhipment business and developing a lot more of the warehousing and packing services in Trinidad.