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In the shipping industry the term "agent" or "shipping agent" could be defined as follows:
The Shipping Agent is a permanent representative, who in a local/foreign port of call, looks after the owner's interests, in the latter's name and at his expense.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
A freight forwarder, forwarder, or Forwarding Agents is a person or company that organizes shipments for individuals or corporations to get large orders from the manufacturer or producer to market or final point of distribution. Forwarders will contract with a carrier to facilitate the movement of goods. A forwarder is not typically a carrier, but is an expert in supply chain management. In other words, a freight forwarder is a "travel agent," for the cargo industry, or a third-party (non-asset-based) logistics provider. A forwarder will contract with asset-based carriers to move cargo ranging from raw agricultural products to manufactured goods. Freight can be booked on a variety of carrier types, including ships, airplanes, trucks, and railroads. It's not unusual for a shipment to move along its route on multiple carrier types.

International freight forwarders typically arrange cargo movement to an international destination. International freight forwarders, have the expertise that allows them to prepare and process the documentation and perform related activities pertaining to international shipments. Some of the typical information reviewed by a freight forwarder is the commercial invoice, shipper's export declaration, bill of lading, and other documents required by the carrier or country of export, import, or transshipment. Much of this information is now processed in a paperless environment.

The FIATA short-hand description of the freight forwarder:
As the 'Architect of Transport' illustrates clearly the commercial position of the forwarder relative to his client. In Europe there are forwarders that specialize in 'niche' areas such as rail-freight and collection and deliveries around a large port. The latter are called Hafen (port) Spediteure (Port Forwarders). A forwarder in some countries may sometimes deal only with domestic traffic and never handle international traffic.

Freight forwarder roles in different countries
USA

In the U.S., a freight forwarder involved with international ocean shipping is licensed by the Federal Maritime Commission as an Ocean Transportation Intermediary. Similarly, freight forwarders that handle air freight will frequently be accredited with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as a cargo agent.

UK
In the U.K., freight forwarders are not licensed, but many are members of the British International Freight Association (BIFA). Freight forwarders in the UK consolidate various goods from different consignors into one full load for road transport to Europe, this is often known as groupage. Some freight forwarders offer additional related services like export packing and case making. The regulations regarding exporting untreated timber pallets and cases has become increasingly more strict and in many countries an exporter will be expected to provide a phytosanitary certificate or risk the expense of having their cargo fumigated.

Australia
In Australia most licensed Customs Clearance Agents (now more commonly referred to as Customs Brokers), operate under a freight forwarder.

Ireland
Even in smaller markets, such as Ireland, the role of freight forwarders is strategically important. International merchandise trade is worth €148 billion to the Irish economy [5]. 82% of manufactured products are exported, further highlighting the importance of the freight forwarders to a nations' economy. Associations like the Irish International Freight Association and FIATA help maintain the professionalism of this industry through educational and representative roles. The FIATA Diploma in Freight Forwarding is an example of how this can be achieved.

Nigeria
Nigeria is a very large market dealing with import and export. Freight-forwarding in Nigeria has been in place since the exporting of groundnut as a cash crop since 1914, though not initially as freight forwarding but as the means of transportation of both goods and services from one country to another. Following the methodology of their British forebears, agents were used to facilitate the transport of goods and services.


About freight forwarding:
The original function of the forwarder, spediteur, or transitarios, was to arrange for the carriage of his customers good by contracting with various carriers. His responsibilities included advice on all documentation and customs requirements in the country of destination. His correspondent agent in far-away lands looked after his customers interests and kept him informed about matters that would affect movement of goods.

In modern times:
The forwarder still carries out those same responsibilities for his client. He still operates either with a corresponding agent overseas or with his own company branch-office. In many instances, the freight forwarder also acts as a carrier for part of a movement it can happen that in a single transaction the forwarder may be acting either as a carrier (principal) or as an agent for his customer.
 

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