A freight forwarder acts as an agent when he performs functions on behalf of, and under the instructions of, the principal (the exporter or importer). As an agent, the forwarder will procure the services of third parties who will perform the packing, storage, transport, handling and customs clearance of the goods. The agent thus acts as an intermediary, ―introducing‖, in a manner of speaking, the principal to the service providers. The principal then enters into direct contractual relations with the service providers. Consequently, the forwarders are generally not liable for the errors or breaches of the service providers. As with other agents, the forwarder owes the principal various duties, including the duty to inform and the duty of diligence.
When the forwarder acts as a principal, it contracts directly the exporter or importer (the ―customer‖). The customer will deal only with the forwarder, who will issue a single bill to the customer for the total amount of services rendered. As a principal, the forwarder is generally liable for the errors or breaches of the sub-contracted service providers. It is also possible for a forwarder to enter into ―hybrid‖ arrangements, acting as agent for certain functions and as principal for others.