Packed with computer screens, it is all glass, no brass—with a wheel that looks more like a pilot’s control column. Sailing her 214,000 tonnes from port to port takes a crew of just 28. Loading and unloading the 20,000 containers she carries only needs the supervision of one crew member, “The Economist” observes.
So most goods wend their way across the world using the second option—containerised freight. The non-domestic cargo business has revenues of $2.6trn a year, according to BCG. And a lot of those revenues go to middlemen. Dealing with customs clearances, insurance, transfers between sea and road and rail and all the other physical, procedural and bureaucratic hold-ups that freight is heir to requires the services of a freight forwarder. These companies account for over a fifth of the logistics industry’s revenues (see chart 1); in some cases they receive as much as 45% of the total delivery cost. In 2016 Deutsche Post DHL’s in-house freight-forwarder made over $26bn in revenues. Its smaller rivals Kuehne + Nagel, of Switzerland, and DB Schenker, of Germany, made $20bn and $17bn respectively.