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  July 29th, 2021 | Written by

Navigating the 12 Pitfalls of the Global Supply Chain

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  • There is significant personal liability for individuals who operate in global supply chains.
  • While criminal prosecution is a rare occurrence it does happen every day in the supply chain.
  • In international trade, relationships trump contracts.

With over 30+ years of international trade experience, I have witnessed numerous and repeated errors made by Sales, Purchasing, Logistics Managers, Supply Chain, and International Business Executives.

There are tremendous opportunities and benefits to be derived through global sourcing and foreign business development. Along with these opportunities are considerable challenges, obstacles, and pitfalls. In order to succeed in international business, management must mitigate these concerns through gaining knowledge and implementing processes and controls over import and export operations, including the development of robust training for all personnel.

The following section contains twelve steps companies can take to manage the solutions that will allow the navigation through these challenges and delivering success to the international operation.

These twelve steps create a pathway forward in a concise, straightforward methodology and time-tested process to ensure management accomplishes their desired corporate goals of profits, growth, and sustainability.

Avoid the following:

Step 1: “We have no personal liability”.

There is significant personal liability for individuals who operate in global supply chains.

U.S. Government enforcement agencies, such as but not limited to:

– Department of Justice

– Customs and Border Protection

– Departments of State, Commerce and Treasury

– Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms

– United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration

All above are a few of the agencies that will prosecute both organizations and individuals who are seriously out of trade compliance with their import and export regulatory responsibilities.

While criminal prosecution is a rare occurrence … it does happen every day in the supply chain, somewhere in the world of international trade.

Trade Compliance Management in companies with an international footprint is a necessary evil that needs to be managed and integrated into the fabric of the organization’s culture and business model.

Step 2: “The FOB Term is Always a Safe Incoterm to Utilize”.

The FOB Incoterm has three deadly areas of concern:

-It is used in domestic trade

-It is a gray area in the loading process

-There can be ambiguity when the point in time responsibility and liability shift from the seller to the buyer (exporter to importer).

It is used in domestic trade

For domestic trade in the United States, the UCCP (Uniform Commercial Code of Practice) currently (though in contention) utilizes the FOB term as a “term of sale or purchase”, where there are two primary options FOB Origin and FOB Destination.

Within the UCCP, FOB is defined as:


2-319. F.O.B. and F.A.S. Terms.

Unless otherwise agreed the term F.O.B. (which means “free on board”) at a named place, even though used only in connection with the stated price, is a delivery term under which:

(a) when the term is F.O.B. the place of shipment, the seller must at that place ship the goods in the manner provided in this Article (Section 2-504) and bear the expense and risk of putting them into the possession of the carrier; or

(b) when the term is F.O.B. the place of destination, the seller must at his own expense and risk transport the goods to that place and their tender delivery of them in the manner provided in this Article (Section 2-503);

(c) when under either (a) or (b) the term is also F.O.B. vessel, car, or another vehicle, the seller must in addition at his own expense and risk load the goods on board. If the term is F.O.B. vessel the buyer must name the vessel and in an appropriate case, the seller must comply with the provisions of this Article on the form of a bill of lading (Section 2-323).

The UCCP Term allows any mode of transit or conveyance.

Some sources claim that FOB stands for “Freight on Board”. This is not the case. “Freight On Board” is not mentioned in any version of Incoterms, and is not defined by the Uniform Commercial Code in the USA.[10] Further to that, it has been found in court that “Freight On Board” is not a recognized industry term.[11] The use of “Freight on Board” in contracts is therefore very likely to cause confusion. The correct term is “free onboard”.

Keep in mind that a huge amount, if not a clear majority of domestic commercial transactions, are sold or purchased on a FOB basis and moved by truck, rail, or air. This would be ok if the FOB Term was the UCCP intent and not intended utilization under Incoterms 2020.

There is a very clear line of confusion between the domestic and international “FOB” terms in selling and purchasing. It is only when it causes a problem when it is seen as an issue.

Free on Board, or FOB is an Incoterm, which means the seller is responsible for loading the purchased cargo onto the ship, and all costs associated with same. At the point, the goods are safely onboard the vessel, the risk transfers to the buyer, who assumes the responsibility of the remainder of the transport.

FOB is the most common agreement between an international buyer and seller when shipping cargo via sea. This Incoterm only applies to sea and inland waterway shipments.

The 2020 edition of Incoterms opened the door for domestic utilization of the FOB term. The FOB UCCP term varies greatly from the FOB Incoterm.

Under Incoterms 2020, the preferred term for domestic utilization, since that door was opened, is FCA (Free Carrier At).

It is a gray area in the loading process

Under Incoterms 2000 and prior, the FOB term transferred risk and cost from the seller to the buyer once the goods passed the ship’s rail.

This factor was changed in the 2010 edition of Incoterms and continues in the 2020 edition. The term now read “…passes when the goods are on board the vessel”.

However, “on board” is not clearly defined. Is that when the goods are placed on the deck, in the hold, not yet secured, secured, etc.?

We had a case in our office, where a U.S. exporter, sold a huge piece of equipment, (25 Tons, $11m in value) to a customer in Europe. It was going to be shipped via ocean, secured in a cargo hold under deck.

During the loading process, the goods were being lifted onto the vessel by a crane and longshoreman crew. In the handling, the equipment was laid down on the deck of the hold several times, while the longshoreman positioned the cargo.

In that repositioning process, the freight was damaged. The issue now became who is responsible, based upon the Incoterm of FOB Port Elizabeth – the seller or the buyer?

Were the goods actually “on board” when they were damaged? The maritime judicial system will eventually resolve that issue and court precedence will be established.

But today there is an ambiguity in defining “on board” in the FOB Incoterm. There are references to being “secured in place”, but it appears ambiguous.

Sellers and buyers need to address these specific concerns in the contract of sale and attempt to minimize the gray areas of liability, that may present themselves when using the FOB term.

There can be ambiguity when the point in time responsibility and liability shift from the seller to the buyer (exporter to importer).

This is the explanation of the FOB term from the Incoterms 2020 edition.

A2 (Delivery)

The seller delivers by placing the goods on board the vessel nominated or provided by the buyer on the agreed date, or within the agreed period as notified by the buyer, or if there is no such time notified then at the end of that period.

There is still a belief that the ship’s rail is the defining point, i.e.: before the notional vertical line above the rail is the seller’s cost and risk, and after is the buyer’s cost and risk. A court ruled that the delivery point was when the goods were on the deck but that then caused the question was the notional vertical line replaced with a notional horizontal one in line with the deck itself and what if the goods were being placed below deck? This ship’s rail concept was removed in the Incoterms® 2010 version. Typically, then, “on board” is taken to mean when the goods are safely on the deck or in the hold. If the cargo needs to be then further secured for transportation such as being lashed or separated with some material or spread evenly throughout the hold for bulk goods like grain the seller and buyer should agree in their contract what is needed and at whose cost and risk this is done.

B2 (Delivery)

The buyer’s obligation is to take delivery when the goods have been delivered as described in A2.

FOB A3 / B3: Transfer of Risk

A3 (Transfer of risk)

In all the rules the seller bears all risks of loss or damage to the goods until they have been delivered in accordance with A2 described above. The exception is loss or damage in circumstances described in B3 below, which varies depending on the buyer’s role in B2

B3 (Transfer of risk)

The buyer bears all risks of loss or damage to the goods once the seller has delivered them as described in A2.

If the buyer fails to inform the seller of where and when the vessel will be presented or if the vessel fails to arrive on time, or it fails to take the goods so that the seller cannot deliver, then the buyer bears the risk of loss or damage to the goods from the agreed date or at the end of the agreed period.

On an operational level, the seller delivered the goods to the terminal, carrier, or other agreed named place, and the goods were not loaded on board as anticipated for an array of reasons, such as but not limited to the carriers having vessel timing or loading issues and the seller appropriately notified the buyer than delivery has been made and risk of loss and damage has passed from the seller to the buyer.

The important aspect to note here is that the buyer expected to take delivery “on board” and now that did not occur as the buyer will take delivery and assume all risks at a point short of “on board”.

In general, Incoterms need to be understood in their entirety including the consequences associated with using the incorrect Incoterm or not understanding the specific responsibilities as the buyer or seller. Incoterms training is a must for all personnel engaged in global trade and more particularly those operating in Procurement, Sales, Operations, Finance, and Customer Service.

Companies involved in international trade using best practices will switch Incoterms 2020 rules in quotations, purchase orders, contracts, commercial invoices, and other commercial documentation when determining the level of responsibilities and costs they want to take on; dividing the responsibilities for risk transfer, costs, and responsibility for carrier selection between the buyer and the seller.

Step 3: Contracts Override Relationships

In international trade, relationships trump contracts. Relationships will drive a successful deal and a long tenure. I have always extolled “you can contract out risk”, but you can seriously minimize and mitigate risk by establishing favored relationships that allow the best opportunity for problem resolution and working out issues that will likely occur over time and trade.

Contracts are important to make the deal have legal standing, but it is foolish to believe that the contract eliminates any risk in the transaction. In fact, sometimes contracts can cause risk when a false sense of security is at hand.

Obtaining legal support is prudent but spending money and time at building relationships with suppliers, vendors, agents, and customers will go a long way in mitigating many of the risks in global trade.

Step 4: Service Providers are Experts in all Aspects of the Global Supply Chain

Just not so! While a small percentage of service providers are clearly experts, professionals, and aligned with teams of knowledgeable staff the majority have serious limitations.

While many have the expertise to arrange affreightment, pick up and delivery many lacks:

-the necessary local connections in all foreign markets

-trade compliance knowledge

-an understanding of how best to eliminate risk and cost from the supply chain

A high degree of scrutiny, vetting, and discerning should take place when choosing service providers, 3PL’s, freight forwarders, and customhouse brokers.

Areas of evaluation:

Service providers can be very valued partners in your global supply chain. Just because they hang out a shingle does not mean they can provide real benefit. Scrutinize robustly and vet diligently. It will pay off in the long run. Having a quality partner will make your job easier and with a greater ability to meet all the challenges successfully.

Step 5: Manage the Supply Chain with Robust Technology

Supply chains that have expansive technology in every aspect of the operation will gain great leverage in performance metrics.

Areas of technology in the supply chain are:

Technology creates efficiency, ease of operations, robust information flow, security, and other benefits. It allows for the highest levels of performance in any organization, but more particularly in the global supply chain. Technology advances forward and expands every day. Keeping contemporary is a challenge that all supply chain executives face.

Cyber Security has grown to be a significant threat. It must be contemplated and managed in every moment and keystroke of the day. There are cybersecurity solutions that must be integrated into all aspects of operation, where there is a technology interface.

Step 6: We have been doing it this way … for over 5 years with no problems.

We hear this often and clearly because a company has not encountered a specific problem, does not necessarily mean things are being done correctly.

A volcano is not a problem until it erupts. The underlying problem is waiting for emergence. Dealing with potential issues proactively and anticipating “what ifs” are a much better option.

Potential problems along with potential betterments must be proactively pursued to assure you do not have serious issues and are doing all possible to reduce risk and cost and/or business process improvements.

Continually updating a logistic SWOT Analysis, risk management assessments and process evaluations are all necessary steps in mitigating any unanticipated problems in the future.

Because no one is complaining does not mean everything is ok. You must be proactive in making sure everything is ok, without assumptions. Err to the side of conservativism as it will prevent future headaches.

The pandemic was a complete disaster and disruption to all global supply chains. Having said that, some good came out of it as companies had time for internal introspection at risk and threats leading to proactive steps in mitigation.

Step 7: We Handed it to the Carrier, so it must be “on board”

Tracking and tracing need to be accomplished at a very detailed and exhaustive level.

Just because you have confirmation that a carrier has received freight, does not assure it made it on board the vessel, aircraft, railcar or truck.

You need affirmation that in fact the goods have actually made it on board the conveyance with an updated ETA, followed up with daily frequency, in case of any unanticipated delays, which occur all the time.

Step 8: We Always Check the Denied Parties List

Many international executives believe their companies are consistently checking and reviewed the various lists making up the “Denied Party Screening” regulations for importers and exporters.

In many years of auditing companies engaged in global trade, only a small percentage is fully compliant with the review, checking and compliance responsibilities associated with Denied Party Screening.

There are available direct connections into the government agencies and numerous third-party technology companies with DPL Screening Capabilities.

Step 9: I am the Ultimate Consignee on these Goods, but not the Importer of Record.

Many companies who are the recipients of imported merchandise who are not participative in the import process believe they have no import responsibilities.

That is potentially and totally incorrect! Customs (CBP) has the right to evaluate any import situation and determine that the ultimate consignee could be considered the “importer of record” and therefore has all the responsibilities as the importer of record”. This would then require adherence to all import regulations HTSUS, valuation, recordkeeping, etc.

Step 10: Domestic Packing will work for my International Shipments

Claims for loss and damage on international shipments occur every day and a major cause is inadequate packing, marking and labeling.

Just check with any marine insurance companies they will advise of the frequency and the severity of claims occurring on import and export shipments directly attributed to inadequate packing marking and labeling which could jeopardize marine cargo insurance coverage as an implicit or explicit warranty.

Step 11: Do we really need to ensure the shipment?

Loss and damage to international freight is a daily occurrence worldwide. In the overall cost of the global supply chain, marine insurance is an inexpensive purchase offering a high value of the return.

Just looked at what happened this year in the Suez Canal, with the grounding of the Ever Given (Evergreen Lines) which potentially caused losses in excess of $ 1billion.

Direct claims in delays and damage and indirectly caused by a General Average Claim. The fines, penalties, delays and lost cargo is still mounting, as only in early July, has the vessel finally exited the Suez Canal.

Marine cargo insurance is a solid, responsible, value-driven, and best practice purchase for any company shipping goods internationally.

“All Risk”, “Warehouse to Warehouse” with contemporary customized underwriting terms under standard policies are available.

Step 12: Do I need to train my global supply chain team?

The challenges of the global supply chain are numerous and daunting. These challenges can only be met by experienced well-trained managers and staff. The training needs to be consistent, contemporary and robust. Key areas to include are:



-Negotiating Freight

-Sourcing Management

-Logistics Management

-Technology Management

-Warehousing & Distribution

-International Contracts

-Risk and Spend Directives

-Foreign Trade Zones

These outlined above show a handful of the necessary skill sets required for import and export personnel to master. And “training” is the pathway to successful global supply chain management.


The twelve examples outlined above provide a synopsis and evidence that mistakes based upon a lack of knowledge and skillsets can cause great disruption in import and export activity in the global supply chain.

Developing resources, providing training, and implementing procedures will assist in mitigating the problems and challenges identified in the above article.

Resources in international business and supply chain management will provide informed intelligence that will allow for making better decisions.

Training and skill set development will better prepare supply chain, import & export executives, managers, and staff to better deal successfully with all the challenges of global trade.

Procedures, protocols, and disciplines in management are always critical to a company’s success in business. In the global supply chain, SOPs are an integral component of freight, logistics, trade compliance, foreign sales, and overseas procurement that assure a company’s success in its international footprint.

The author can be reached at: for questions and comments.