Pakistan foresees potential opportunities in transportation network and logistics systems with the development of CPEC. However, the inherent risk in the logistics, especially in freight forwarding industry, cannot be negated. The largest portion of international transport is reliant on the ships for carrying cargo from origin to destination. These ships are under the ownership and control of giant shipping companies. The magnanimity coupled with the monopolized source allows the shipping lines to exploit, rather abuse, the situation. One such example is the terms and conditions encrypted on the reverse side of the Bill of Lading of the Shipping Lines. These conditions are a matter of deep concern, especially for the freight forwarder and shipper. It would not be wrong to say that these conditions are beyond the prudent perceptions of business.

In the business world every business is at risk that the legal fraternity by framing strong terms of contract makes effort to minimize or waive off at maximum lengths for its client. The drafts are initially more of a matter of negotiation between the parties to come to certain length of acceptance and rejection. Once the parties finalise their negotiations on the draft, the contractual obligations are reframed accordingly. Upon signatures the parties are bound by those terms and the contract prescribing the way forward in all cases but no provision must contradict the law.

In the freight forwarding world the principle document governing the relationships of parties, entitlement to goods, or contract of carriage is the bill of lading. The freight forwarder, however, may sign a credit agreement too having the terms and conditions of the bill of lading annexed. The terms of bill, being the principle document of reliance, is its one-sided approach that gives the shipping line the right to waive-off all the responsibilities and liabilities while reserving all possible rights against the goods and the merchant.

None of the counter party to the shipping line has any right to raise objections or concerns over these terms and conditions. In the event of any dispute the broad definition of the term ‘Merchant’ is brought to play, so much so that the shipping lines tries to engulf the parties with which it has no privity of contract. The first strike by the shipping lines is to the freight forwarders. The shipping lines relying on the terms extend the scope of dispute to other independent transactions.

The shipping lines in violation of the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act – the applicable law in Pakistan – withholds bill of lading of other customers of freight forwarder. The law of the land clearly stipulates that once the shipping line receives the goods it shall on demand of the shipper issue the bill of lading. The practice, however, is contrary to the given provision of law. Shipping line exercising relying on the bill terms, though are coercive measures, withhold bill of ladings of those unrelated to the dispute putting freight forwarder in a paradoxical situation where on the one side freight forwarder is being blackmailed by the shipping line and on the other being bullied by its customers. In such cases to save its own skin the freight forwarder takes charge to settle the matter, so much so are made to pay the shipping line as much as demanded. These coercive measures basically nail the freight forwarder unnecessarily.

The general understanding of the law says that in no case shall any provision of a special nature or relating to a specific purpose shall be in contradiction with the law. In such cases the law shall take precedence and shall prevail. Taken this very stance, the freight forwarder is not able to attain justice within time because in freight forwarding world time is of the essence and delay can cause much substantial loss to all the stakeholders involved, especially the shipper of the cargo. Freight forwarder despite wanting to pursue the matter against any of the parties involved is to do so considering its need of the shipping lines. Therefore, the matter rather than concluding by way of legal remedies is preferred to be solved in a commercially viable manner causing substantial cost and loss to the freight forwarder.

The courts need to review the terms and opine accordingly, preferably directing the shipping lines to be law compliant. This would allow for any future reference brought before the court of law to be well placed by the legal fraternity and adjudged by the courts more soundly, else as CPEC becomes operational and problems in the business surface it will be handy for the Courts to work upon then.