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November 12 2018

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52 The Journal of Commerce | November 12 2018 By Colin Barrett Q&A A Q Shipment idled in lieu of more cash I paid in full an advance invoice to a Chinese freight forwarder and it acknowledged and picked up a carton at the manufacturer's facility in China. There was no further word until I got a shocking email that it had raised its per-kilogram rate, telling me I must pay more to get my goods. I paid via PayPal and have complained to them. PayPal's standard is to get a refund of payment, but this still leaves my goods unshipped. I'm looking for your opinion of the legality of what the forwarder did so that I can convince PayPal to threaten the forwarder with delisting unless it ships to me right away for no more money. WELL, I UNDERSTAND your outrage about something that would certainly be cause for successful legal action if it happened in the United States. But, in the end, all I can advise you to do is pay what the forwarder is demanding if you ever want to see your merchandise. Let's start with the obvious: China isn't the United States, and its economic and legal systems are quite different. Under US standards, the action you say the for- warder took would be an egregious breach of contract, and its refusal to deliver your freight without additional payment from you would constitute criminal conver- sion — theft, pretty much — and you'd have ample legal recourse. In China, however, for all I know this kind of quasi- retroactive rate hike may be a common occurrence, and may even be expressly countenanced by its legal code. Whether that's so or not, even if the forwarder is merely taking extra-legal advantage of an ignorant foreigner, you're poorly positioned to argue the point. Actually, I'd say the forwarder is probably singling you out as someone it hasn't done business with before, and doesn't expect to do much more in the future. I can't imagine that major US shippers would sit still for this kind of behavior, whether it's customary or not in the Chinese economy. It's even possible that it's not the for- warder that's doing this, but merely an employee who's hoping to pocket the extra cash being demanded of you. Even so, what are you effectively going to do about it? Suing them is, as I'm sure you recognize, a non- starter. You're here, it's there, and you'd have to hire whatever passes in China as a lawyer to prosecute your case, if you could even find one who'd take it. Further- more, your question tells me that you don't know any more about Chinese law than I to understand whether your case is even viable there. Your effort to get PayPal to hop in on your behalf is at least more sensible, but I doubt mightily that PayPal will go out on a limb to take on China over the few dollars involved here. For all you or I know, the entity you identify may be a branch of the government there — it's a Communist country, you know — and even if it's privately held, it'll have solid governmental ties. Don't count on PayPal to take up cudgels for you in that milieu. What's left? Slogging through the bureaucracy of the forwarder to complain to higher-ups at that organization doesn't strike me as realistic. Even if you've simply fallen victim to an opportunistic employee looking to enrich himself or herself at your expense, the initial reaction likely will be to support its worker. Going to Chinese law enforcement to get them to force release of your goods would probably hit similar resistance. All told, I don't think there's anything effective you can do. In essence, you're back in the middle ages when your freight was subject to the whims of highwaymen who could accost you with the demand to "stand and deliver," and unless you were in possession of a firearm or quite adept with a blade, you had little choice in the matter. You lack firepower here, and are unskilled in the arts you'd need to defend yourself against what I agree is an unfair demand for money beyond what you've already paid, so I think you have little option but to comply. I hate telling you this as much as I'm sure you hate hearing it, but there it is, I'm afraid. JOC Consultant, author and educator Colin Barrett is president of Barrett Transportation Consultants. Send your questions to him at 5201 Whippoorwill Lane, Johns Island, S.C. 29455; phone, 843 559 1277; e-mail, Contact him to order the most recent 351-page compiled edition of past Q&A columns, published in 2010. Slogging through the bureaucracy of the forwarder to complain to higher- ups at that organization doesn't strike me as realistic.

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