Aziz Mantrach, President of FONASBA: On our own we can go fast, but together we can go far.
Mr. President, a couple of years ago, Lloyd’s List Intelligence posed the alarming question “Death of the shipbroker?” on its cover story.
A few months ago, under your Presidency, the Federation of National Associations of Ship Brokers and Agents proved it goes from strength to strength as it celebrated its 50th Anniversary during the Annual Meeting held in Miami.
Would you agree that despite the difficulties encountered throughout these fifty years, Ship Brokers, Port Agents and their Federation always find a way to “adopt, adapt, improve” and thus remain relevant in a constantly changing business environment?
Aziz Mantrach: The old chartering professionals will certainly remember that it was a challenge and an arduous task to fix a ship a few decades ago, at that time, the broker needed only two telephones and a typewriter to carry out his negotiations on the telephone with ship-owners and charterers.
Towards the 1960s the telex appeared as a communication tool that made life easier for the broker, and later some chartering companies started using the fax machine.
Today chartering has changed enormously and it has become much more modern and easy, since the majority of negotiations are done by email, and instant messaging, and the main challenges today for chartering professionals include: high competition, and lower number of charterers, less business opportunities to develop.
New technologies have already made life easier for brokers throughout history, from the telex and so they will continue to make it easier for brokers, do they still have to adapt to it?
At FONASBA, my first decision as president was to create a group called "Disruptive New Technologies Working Group", composed of several Member Countries, which held their first meeting / panel in October 2019 in Miami, and which turned out to be very interesting and rewarding for all attending Members.
This is why, it is essential for a broker to perpetuate his position to adapt to new technologies, since the changes and improvement in the ship chartering process are definitely required
Nothing can replace the expertise and know-how of a broker, and his in-depth knowledge of a specific market, which augurs for a long life of the broker profession.
In his congratulatory message on the occasion of FONASBA’s 50th Anniversary, the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization Mr. Kitack Lim praises FONASBA for “bringing the expertise and experience of its Members to relevant IMO Fora” and he also looks forward to “ongoing and continued collaboration in the future”. In the light of these statements -and for those of us who might not be so familiar with FONASBA’s role- would you please elaborate on the Federation’s vision and mission?
Aziz Mantrach: FONASBA's relationships with other international organizations and maritime industry organizations are vital, to ensure that we have the means to influence policy, in order to raise the profile of the shipping agent and broker, and also to make our voice heard in all matters that concern or interest our Members.
This is the reason why, FONASBA which already has a very dense international network makes every effort to extend and to formalize its international relations with all the organizations which have a role played by near or by far in the international maritime sector.
We have consultative status with IMO, which is vital because it gives our Federation a voice in maritime affairs at the highest level elsewhere within the UN institutions, FONASBA enjoys membership of the Private Sector Consultative Group (PSCG) of the World Customs Organization and has consultative status with both UNCITRAL and UNCTAD.
FONASBA is also working closely with other IMO NGO’s in both the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN) and a port sector group brought together recently by the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH).
All its relationships with these Organizations and Partners allow FONASBA to play an active role in the subjects concerned and always give the point of view of the shipping agent and broker.
It would be too long to quote all the subjects on which FONASBA has contributed with IMO, but I will name only the example of the amendment to Solas regulation 6,2 requiring the verification of the gross mass of the containers.
FONASBA gave its full backing to international government and industry efforts aimed at ensuring that shipping containers for export are accurately weight.
We then carried out through our members several surveys which gave visibility on the state of preparation of the implementation and post start of this new regulation, to allow all the partners to have visibility on the state of progress and application of this amendment to Solas regulation 6.2 in all Member States.
According to the Chief Executive of the Baltic Exchange Mr. Mark Jackson, one of FONASBA’s key achievements “has been to professionalise the ship broking and agency business” Please explain how FONASBA managed to accomplish so and if the QUALITY STANDARD which FONASBA introduced in 2007 continues to play a significant role in identifying first-class ship brokers and port agents across the globe?
Aziz Mantrach: Indeed, our pride within FONASBA is that very early, we understood that it was absolutely necessary to give the way to the alternative of quality, education, and training, to allow our members to meet the challenges of the future and to be able to adapt to the changes imposed by new technologies and artificial intelligence.
This is why I put a focus on the enhancement of the FQS quality, in order to reach a critical mass of certified shipping agents and brokers, to allow us to increase the support of our Partners, such as BIMCO, INTERTANKO, INTERCARGO, in order to obtain the preference of the nomination of the certified shipping agent and broker.
On the other hand, we have diversified within FONASBA the training agreements with Partners and Members, in order to offer added-value services to our Members and to assure them the upgrading of their human resources, which is increasingly essential to remain competitive in the market.
To date, FONASBA Quality Standard has been established as the only recognized quality label for ship brokers and agents, worldwide. Only available within the FONASBA membership, some 40 countries and over 500 companies are covered by the standard, which open the door to new perspectives of stronger support to FQS from our ship-owners or charterers partners.
Since it is non-quality that costs more, we will continue to popularize the FQS as a more credible alternative.
Despite the maritime industry’s inherent uncertainty, two of FONASBA’s latest initiatives, namely the Agent Diploma and the Young Ship Agent or Ship Broker Award seem to demonstrate that the Federation is confident about junior Brokers & Agents’ future. Mr. President, is my assumption correct? Would Mr. Aziz Mantrach -with his hand on his heart- encourage young people to take up the profession of a Broker or an Agent?
Aziz Mantrach: Precisely the best way to prepare today's young people and give them the ability to adapt to the maritime industry's inherent uncertainty, the recipe is: education, training and quality, and that's why I put the focus on this axis which has become strategic.
This is why I have made every effort to diversify the training and to use the expertise of our Members as suppliers.
Human resources uplevelling is essential for the company to remain competitive, in this context we encourage the participation of young people, in particular through the FONASBA young ship agent or broker award, which is reserved for young people under 40, and be employed by a Company that is Member of our Federation.
Candidates are invited to submit a short synopsis of the subject, and coverage of their proposed entry.
This award has already known 5 editions and the call for candidates for the 6th edition 2020 has already been launched and the sustainability of this action is due to the support of BIMCO and ITIC.
My most ardent wish is to see that young Greek brokers or agents can participate in this competition during the year 2020.
Regarding the FONASBA AGENT DIPLOMA we have joined forces with ASBA, our member association in the USA, to offer a practical entry-level course for new entrants to the ship agency sector. The Diploma is based on ASBA’s own very successful Agent Exam which is one component of a company’s annual certification for the FONASBA Quality Standard in the USA. To date the ASBA Exam has been taken by more than 1,500 US-based ship agents.
The FONASBA version is open to employees of all Company Members of its Full Members.
The Diploma is awarded after a student has completed a course of study, using training materials provided by FONASBA, and having successfully completed an online multiple choice examinations.
This diploma has had great success with several countries, especially those that have no training or similar diploma, almost 200 students have registered and nearly 70 had successfully completed the course and received their Diplomas.
In a recent interview, the General Manager of FONASBA Mr. Jonathan Williams confirmed that the Federation now has “67 members in 63 countries”.
Do you believe that more Countries should be represented in the Federation and if so, what are your plans to attract new Members?
Aziz Mantrach: Thank you for asking me this question which for me is essential, since it relates to membership development and which is for me a priority axis on which I have emphasized since my election as President of FONASBA in Cancun in October 2018.
Indeed our Federation must be ambitious to develop and expand in all regions of the world, and thus strengthen its position, as the only voice that represents the profession of shipping agents & brokers, protect the profession worldwide, promoting fair and equitable practices and ensuring that the views of its Members are voiced at the highest levels of the maritime industry and thus impose it as an essential Federation, to defend the interest of our profession.
During my first year of presidency, and with the contribution of the Regional Vice Presidents, we were able to reach a historic score of 10 new Members (GREECE, UKRAINE, ROMANIA, ESTONIA, LITHUANIA, COLOMBIA, COSTA RICA, CURACAO, MOZAMBIQUE, and SENEGAL).
We will continue to work deeply in order to perpetuate this dynamic of development of membership and to have all the countries among us, because together we are stronger.
According to the FONASBA archives, Greece was one of the eleven Founder Members of the Federation back in 1969 (The 11 Founder Members were Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and -as it was then- the Federal Republic of Germany). That said, Greece ceased to be a Member for quite a few years and it was the International Maritime Union in Greece -under the presidency of Mr. Philippos Costopoulos- that rejoined the ranks of FONASBA as a Full Member few months ago. Mr. President, what is your message to the Greek Brokers & Agents and -last but not least- are you planning to visit our Country any time soon?
Aziz Mantrach: For me, Greece remains a great Maritime Nation, and that is why FONASBA has always attached paramount importance so that Greece remains an active state within FONASBA, especially since your country was among the 11 Founders of our Federation.
We are therefore delighted that the International Maritime Union in Greece has become a full member of our Federation, and that my friend the President Philippe Costopoulos, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the AGM in Miami in October 2019, is a great professional who has a very positive vision, for the future development of your Union.
I hope that the entire profession in Greece, both liner agents, tramping as well as shipbrokers, is represented in our Federation, because on our own we can go fast, but together we can go far, indeed by joining forces for better results our organization will more effectively protect the professions of ship brokers and agents worldwide.
I will be delighted to be able to visit Greece, at a next opportunity and thus have the chance to visit and pay tribute to many Greek friends, for whom I have great consideration for their expertise in the field of shipping.
I nevertheless take the opportunity of this interview to send my best wishes for prosperity, progress and a bright future on the occasion of the New Year to all Greek shipping agents and brokers.
Mr. President, thank you very much. Anacreon Mataragas