Q&A with Atlas Shippers International Chairman and President Joel P. Longares
The onset of “ber” months will once again keep the consolidators of “balikbayan’ boxes busy. At this time of the year, many overseas Filipinos have already stacked their boxes with gifts, foods and toys among others, ready to be shipped to their loved ones in the Philippines.
For millions of overseas Filipinos, gifts sent through “balikbayan” boxes are their closest physical connection with their families back home, even if they have 24/7 access with them through the internet. After all, gifts do not only excite its recipients, but more importantly, it helps to strengthen family relationships.
“This is precisely the reason why the handling of “balikbayan” boxes during shipment must be given utmost care as these are not ordinary boxes. These are boxes sent by overseas Filipinos to their loved ones in the Philippines with love and affection.” Joel P. Longares, chairman and president of the leading “balikbayan” box cargo forwarding company in the United States of America, Atlas Shippers International, said during an interview with TradeIn.
But according to Longares, who is also the president of the Door-to-Door Consolidators Association of the Philippines (DDCAP), an association of cargo forwarding companies that handle “balikbayan” boxes, the “balikbayan” box industry is unique and it has its unique concerns and problems as well.
In 2015, when news about the Bureau of Customs (BOC) opening of “balikbayan” boxes for inspection broke the headlines and swamped social media networks, global outrage in the overseas Filipino community ensued, prompting the Senate to conduct an inquiry on the issues.
But according to Longares, the problems affecting the “balikbayan” box industry are rooted not only in the Philippines, it also has its issues at the country of origin. Longares is suggesting to establish an office that would streamline and align the government’s policy directions affecting the “balikbayan” box industry with countries where overseas Filipinos avail of the services of “balikbayan” box consolidators.
For more of Longares’ thoughts about the industry, here are some of the highlights of the TradeIn interview with the Atlas Shippers International Chairman and DDCAP president:
TradeIn : How is the “balikbayan” box business doing in the US?
Longares : Filipinos by nature are very clannish. So wherever we are, we cannot detach ourselves from our familes and friends in the Philippines. That is why the “balikbayan” box business in the US grows by as much as 20% per year. The only time this growth was not attained was last year when news of the Bureau of Customs opening of “balikbayan” boxes swamped the social media networks.
TradeIn : What are the most common problems you have encountered as one of the pioneers in the “balikbayan” box business in the US?
Longares: Late and/or non-delivery of “balikbayan” boxes are among the most common problems in the “balikbayan” box industry. These problems are further aggravated by the fact that many overseas Filipinos do not know the proper procedures of sending their “balikbayan” boxes and/or their agents in the US do not have reliable partners in the Philippines to facilitate its deliveries.
TradeIn : What can the government do to address this problem?
Longares : The “balkbayan” business in the US is multi-layered. There are the cargo consolidators, agents and even drop-off stores. The agents are usually those that pick-up the boxes from Filipino homes and bring them to cargo consolidators for a fee or commission. The consolidators for their part, after they are able to maximize the contents of a 40-footer container van with “balikbayan” boxes from its many agents, ships the container van to the Philippines. And through the consolidator’s partner in the Philippines which could either be a customs broker or a local cargo forwarding company, the release of the container van from the BOC is facilitated and subsequently delivered to individual consignees. The problem arises when the foreign based consolidator does not have a reliable Philippine partner.
What the government can do to address this problem is to streamline and align the accreditation process of cargo consolidators in the Philippines with that of the consolidators or agents in the US or other countries for that matter.
Philippine foreign diplomatic posts should be given the mandate to issue accreditation papers to all consolidators and agents outside the Philippines who would like to engage in the “balikbayan” box business, if only to ensure that they have reliable partners in the Philippines that can guarantee the deliveries of the boxes. In fact, they should even be required to put-up a bond that will guarantee the payment of fees in the Philippines should its Philippine partner fail to do so.
TradeIn : Will this not be too Restrictive for overseas Filipinos who would want to be in business or earn extra income?
Longares : If overseas Filipinos are serious about getting into the business, this will be part of their investment. And at the same time it will guarantee the delivery of “balikbayan” boxes to its consignees as it will eliminate the fly-by-night cargo forwarders and agents abroad who are usually the culprits of undelivered boxes.
On the Philippine end, the coordinated procedures between the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) can be strengthened with the DTI requiring consolidators to have a warehouse for storage of “balikbayan” boxes and sufficient number of delivery trucks for its accreditation.
TradeIn : How do you see the “balikbayan” box industry under the Duterte Administration?
Longares : We are very hopeful and inspired, especially when President Rodrigo Duterte mentioned in his first State of the Nation Address that he will create a line agency to handle OFW concerns. We are hoping that in his program for real change, our industry and the millions of overseas Filipinos would be among those that would directly benefit from his reform program. We have seen the President’s sincerity and real concern for the Filipinos, especially the marginalized. Thus, we trust and believe that overseas Filipinos will be treated with respect and dignity under the Duterte administration.