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Amazon Can Now Ship Packages From China to the U.S. by Sea

Amazon now has trucks, planes ... and ships?

Lisa Werner / Moment Mobile via Getty
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Amazon has its own trucks, drones and maybe some planes. Soon, you might be able to add ships to the list.

The company’s China subsidiary has registered in the U.S. to operate as an ocean freight forwarder, an entity that organizes the shipment of goods from a supplier or factory in one region — say, China — to a company or customer somewhere far away, like the U.S. The registration was unearthed by Flexport, a San Francisco-based logistics startup that published a blog post on the news today.

“Amazon China now has the appropriate paperwork to provide ocean freight services for other companies,” the blog post read. “This is Amazon’s first step toward entering the $350 billion ocean freight market.”

The move comes as Amazon continues to make inroads in controlling more of what happens after a customer clicks “Buy” to ultimately cut down on shipping costs and improve speed and reliability of deliveries. In the blog post, Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen suggests that Amazon’s competitive advantage over old-school freight forwarders will be the automation of some steps of the shipment process through software, thus cutting labor costs along the way.

As Petersen notes, Amazon could add an ocean shipment service to its popular Fulfillment By Amazon warehousing offering to help transport goods from Amazon sellers in China to Amazon warehouses quicker by cutting out middlemen. In another scenario, such a service could be employed to help Chinese sellers ship directly from China to the doors of customers in America, in a salvo aimed at Wish, the $3 billion shopping app that Re/code recently profiled, he suggested. Third-party businesses now account for almost half of all goods sold on Amazon globally.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment.

Update: Amazon China registered with the Federal Maritime Commission on November 13, according to Cliff Johnson, deputy director of the commission’s Bureau of Certification and Licensing. Johnson told Re/code that Amazon registered as a Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier. What’s that? Typically, it’s a business that buys cargo space on someone else’s ship at a wholesale price, and then sells that space to a manufacturer or merchant at a retail price.

Clarification: The headline and article have been updated to note that Amazon has registered as a freight forwarder; an earlier version said the company had received a license. Foreign-based forwarders can operate without a license so long as they meet regulatory requirements, according to the Federal Maritime Commission’s website.

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