25 March 2022 • 14 min read

Export packaging: Integral Part of Shipping

Editorial Team

Industry standards compliant export packaging is a crucial part of international trade. The job of a shipper or exporter doesn’t end with just manufacturing world-class products but also adhering to country-specific and international standards while wrapping his wares for onward shipment through a vessel, aircraft, or a truck for the ultimate buyers. Failing to do so can lead to heavy fines and massive delays, coupled with disrepute. Read on to know the key role of export packaging in international trade.

Unlike services exports which are mostly intangible in nature and cross continents as bits and bytes through the submarine internet cables, merchandise exports demand safe packaging for goods to be hauled across the oceans to remain intact and acceptable to the ultimate foreign buyer. Different types of goods need varied methods of export packaging as not all goods and commodities meant for export are the same in shape, size and volume.

Packaging also plays a key role in export success as it helps in the safe keep of products, retaining them in perfect condition until reaching the destination and also uniquely positioning and differentiating them. Several geographies have their stringent requirements for packaging material to meet. For instance, many countries bar packaging material which may bear invasive species.

Amid this backdrop, there are established global bodies to guide small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and exporters on packaging, whose aim is to enable these entities in developing and transition economies to emerge more competitive and get linked to the international markets for investments and trade, thereby raising the living standards and creating job opportunities.

The International Trade Centre (ITC), set up in 1964 is a joint agency of the World Trade Organization (WTO)and the United Nations (UN), which offers information, advisory services, training, networks and projects in export packaging.

The joint UN and WTO development agency’s export packaging services include one of the most comprehensive knowledge databases on export packaging available for developing countries.ITC’s Pack it is a modular information system which comprises of 40 modules of comprehensive coverage of packaging technology, specific product packaging and regulations. Likewise, ITC also publishes a widely renown multilingual glossary of packaging terms and packaging publications.

Besides ITC, World Packaging Organisation (WPO) and some commercial players such as NEFAB are also operating in this space. ITC also works with as many as 100 leading packaging institutions, including theInternational Association of Packaging Research Institutes.

Container convenience

In modern day shipping, containers and pallets have become a standard because they offer the best possible protections to merchandise. Obviating the possibilities of stealing goods and tampering with them is enabled by containers and their sealing, including shrink wrapping and secure straps.

Export packaging differs

The level of export packaging varies from the type of product, mode of transportation and available facilities at the destination port or airport.Generally, for shipment through vessels, extensive packaging is needed to shield the products from moisture as the journeys are long duration with exposure to humid environment.
Likewise, there is the possibility of multiple handling of export consignments when shipped via vessels such as from the exporter to the container terminal, terminal to port, port to vessel and all this handling sequence in reverse order at the destination.

Many forces act on shipments

Export shipments have to endure the many forces of vibrations, drops, moisture, climatic stresses, stacking pressures and also compression, cutting and bending. Various kinds of blocking materials are used to immobilize products, offer right cushioning and fill the voids of empty spaces around the packed goods for safety. It is a known fact that modern vessels stack thousands of containers one on top of the other, building towers of containers.
Export packaging also calls for the knowledge of selecting the right design, packaging materials, packaging for all modes of transportation and markets. Packaging materials must also be tested to validate their performance.

Dangerous goods

Several ways in which costs are affected is through packing and handling, warehousing and transportation, administration, environmental concerns, product protection and attention to safety and compliance issues with respect to dangerous goods.

It is crucial for dangerous goods shippers to make the right packaging to protect them. Different categories of hazardous good include:  

  • Class 1: Explosives
  • Class 2: Gases
  • Class 3: Flammable liquids
  • Class 4: Flammable solids which can combust spontaneously and substances which emit flammable gases when they come in contact with water
  • Class 5: Organic peroxides and oxidizing substances
  • Class 6: Infectious and toxic substances
  • Class 7: Radioactive materials
  • Class 8: Corrosives
  • Class 9: Miscellaneous dangerous goods.

Packaging dangerous goods  

There are three groups of methods employed in safely packaging hazardous goods.

Packaging Group I (X): This method of packaging is the sturdiest packaging employed for the most dangerous goods such as cyanide or infectious viruses. This packaging method has to pass the drop test of 1.8metres.
Packaging Group II (Y): This method of packaging is used for air freight shipping of goods like batteries and explosives. It has to pass a drop test of 1.2 metres.
Packaging Group III (Z): This method of packaging is used for flammable fluids and batteries which are transported by trucks. It has to pass a drop test of 0.8 metres.

International testing standards in packaging

American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM),International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International SafeTransit Association (ISTA) are some of the most commonly implemented standards aimed at ensuring that the package designs are safe and adhere to the industry standards.

Country specific rules

Many countries have packaging standards specific to them which require the exporters to adhere to. It is the duty of exporters to stay informed and follow the latest packaging standards specific to a country.Non-compliance can lead to severe penalties, risk of entire cargo getting sequestered and delayed, including the end customer being subjected to expensive litigation and suffering disrepute, especially when exporting hazardous goods.Following export packaging rules in letter and spirit will help in clearing all the inspections without issues on arriving at the export destination.

Air shipments

Unlike export shipments through the oceans on large vessels, export packaging via air transit requires a lesser degree of packaging as the transit times are shorter and air cargo is mostly lighter when compared to mainstream shipping on the high seas. However, effective moisture protection is still needed as temperature and elevation changes can lead to condensation.

A few popular packaging materials

Plywood boxes and shipping crates, corrugated packaging and wood packaging are some popular packaging materials used in export packaging. Offering easy assembling options, wood packaging is great for product protection. It enables multiple opening and closing opportunities.

Corrugated packaging is one of the most popular packaging materials owing to its low cost. It is easy to customize to the shipper’s need, lightweight and gives good product protection. Plywood boxes are widely used in export packaging as they enable air to pass through, limiting exposure to moisture

Let us explore a bit more about export packaging, taking the most important points into consideration:

  • Information and labeling on the export packages has to be accurate and explicitly clear.
  • Export consignments must comply with local rules at the destination.  For example, some countries prohibit certain packaging material like straw filling.
  • Some countries impose restrictions on wood packaging, including requiring wood packaging to be marked and accompanied by a certificate.
  • Some export markets demand minimum weight and volume of packaging. For example, heavy packaging users have to register with NorthernIreland Environment Agency (NIEA) to become accredited as exporters in theUnited Kingdom. Many export markets have strict rules on packaging waste and collection. Germany’s ‘green dot system’ is a case in point.
  • Several export markets mandate easily recyclable packaging material with minimal environmental damage, including strict packaging waste and collection rules.
  • There are wood packaging standards aimed at avoiding the spread of forest pests and timber diseases. In some instances, an import license is also required when wood is employed in packaging.
  • Australia prohibits the import of non-treated coniferous wood packaging materials (pallets) from select countries to avoid the entry of non-native or invasive species.
  • Hazardous goods must be safely packed and clearly labeled.
  • Poor packaging can adversely affect transport insurance if it is proved so.
  • To avoid disputes in the event of goods getting damaged during shipping, contracts must consider incorporating packaging specifications with buyers.
  • Cost savings on packaging using sub-standard materials is never a good idea. Packaging options such as cartons grouped on pallets and later loading into containers has become a mainstay.
  • It is better to rope in a surveyor for specific packaging guidance in case of fragile products shippers’ facing regular complaints of in-transit breakage.

To conclude, export packaging is a make-or-break part of export operations, requiring shippers to adhere to country specific rules depending on the type of commodity or merchandise being exported. There is enough guidance for exporters through global bodies to successfully export package their products and also weather the storms of many forces which can acton merchandise at every stage of export transactions.

Blog comments

06 July 2023
Blog is of immense interest for export containerized appreciations.

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