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Translations for Port and Transport Technology

The importance of professional translations customs

Customs clearance worth 760 billion euros – yet delivery is stopped in the case of inconsequential linguistic errors in documentation.

Goods valued at €760bn passed through German customs in 2011. This shows that global connections and trade relationships are continuing to grow. Behind this, however, is a gigantic logistic expenditure that is often underestimated, and permits no mistakes. If goods are not correctly labelled or documented, they cannot pass through customs and are reported as not delivered by the customer. In the worst cases, contractual penalties in the high five figures become due. It is therefore imperative for every international logistics company, that customs documents are not only complete, but also correctly translated. Even small mistakes, for example in the translation of abbreviations, can involve heavy losses. For this reason, more and more logistics firms are resorting to the help of professional translators.

As a higher volume of companies are taking the step towards internationality and founding branches abroad, logistics companies have to be right alongside them. This entails not only global networks and precise knowledge of infrastructure, but also most of all the careful handling of customs regulations and documents. From detailed goods descriptions, certificates of origin and supplier's declarations to separate documents for the export of hazardous materials – correct terminology plays a hugely important role at every stage of a commercial shipment.
For this reason, the first hurdle must be cleared before the goods are shipped: The translation of all important papers. In order to transport products to their destination, countless documents, for which very specific technical terminology is used, are necessary. This is why even experienced companies use a customs dictionary in which all these terms are listed with their explanations. 'The customs and trade sector is characterised by its own terminology,' says Frédéric Ibanez, owner of a leading translation agency, Alphatrad – this is something he knows well. The agency employs some 3,500 translators worldwide, who have all specialised in a particular area of expertise, such as logistics. 'Typical sources of error are mainly abbreviations and 1:1 translations, which can lead to significant misunderstandings,' explains Ibanez. He says it is therefore necessary to employ experts who are familiar with the terms and all synonyms.

Even if only one small error sneaks into customs documentation, in some circumstances it can mean the goods may not be exported and remain in the customs area, until the correct documents have been supplied. However, time delays can have disastrous consequences in logistics. If the delivery deadline is not met, this can legally be viewed as a breach of contract and, in the worst case scenario, can incur fines running into tens of thousands.

Challenge for every translator: in-house specialist terms

Linguistic ambiguities often do not initially arise in complex customs papers, but it is rather in internal documents such as working instructions or safety measures that difficulties originate. Claudia Kofler from Camion Transport AG, one of the largest logistics companies in Switzerland, knows only to well which problems can arise: 'We use a lot of specific in - house technological terms, which however cannot be transmitted 1:1 into standard French without a loss of meaning'. Specialists are therefore indispensable, particularly because there can be very subtle differences even within a language. Kofler has also had experience of this: 'French used in western Switzerland does not always correspond to the official language. This must be considered in every translation.'

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