By Ruwantissa Abeyratne
No one seems to care much about air cargo, at least not the international community. When it comes to “consumer protection,” as the International Civil Aviation Organization calls it, it is always the passenger who is referred to, not the shipper.
Two major international events in 2013 at ICAO have some bearing on this much-neglected area. The first has already taken place. The Sixth Worldwide Air Transport Conference was held in Montreal at ICAO Headquarters in March. More than 1,000 delegates and observers from 131 member countries and 39 international organizations attended.
At this conference, there were two recommendations for air cargo services – one for the countries and one for ICAO. The first was that countries should give due regard to the distinct features of air cargo services when exchanging market access rights so as to promote the services’ development.
The recommendation also stated that countries should continue to liberalize air cargo services through all available avenues and share experiences with other countries.
The second recommendation was that ICAO should take the lead in the development of a specific international agreement to facilitate further liberalization of air cargo services. It also stated that while developing new regulations for air cargo, ICAO should consult with experts, countries, the industry and interested stakeholders.
There is nothing so far to indicate that there has been any such initiative. In the least, ICAO has not even given any hint as to how it proposes to “take the lead” in developing a specific international agreement for cargo. The only evidence is an ambivalent statement that ICAO will “follow up” on the outcome of the Worldwide Air Transport Conference by continuing consultations with its Air Transport Regulation Panel.
This comes nine months after the recommendation.
The second large ICAO event is the upcoming 38th Session of the ICAO Assembly to be held in late September and early October.
There will be a whole new resolution requesting that the ICAO Council ensure that standards on facilitation address the requirements of member countries with respect to administration of border controls, cargo and passengers and advances in technologies. The resolution also urges countries and operators to make all possible efforts to speed up the handling and clearance of air cargo, while ensuring the security of the international supply chain.
This is all that ICAO says about air cargo, while in its own admission the organization admits: “Air cargo also became increasingly important to global trade, achieving an 18.5 percent growth in the past three years in terms of total tonne kilometres performed.”
It is difficult to understand this neglectful mindset on the air cargo sector, particularly since when the arrivals terminal of Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi was gutted by fire in August, the Kenyan authorities grounded all international passenger flights – but kept the freighters going without interruption. This was because the export by air of perishable African products to the West, particularly Europe, is the lifeblood of many Eastern African States.
I wonder what the 57 African member countries of ICAO might think of this.
Ruwantissa Abeyratne is a former senior legal officer at ICAO.