Another Mexican company ready to test the waters

truck280.jpgMEXICALI – While trucking groups in the United States and Mexico decry a pilot program opening the border to long-haul operators, Rafael Godínez Sandoval is getting ready to roll. Inside Godínez’s small operations center in the heart of Mexicali’s industrial district, a trailer packed with tightly wrapped pallets of plastic fruit baskets manufactured in central Mexico is set for delivery to a grower in Northern California.

“We’re ready to go to work, we have the people, and we have the equipment,” Godínez, 49, said as stepped past a Kenworth 18-wheeler with the emblem of Mexico’s patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe.

With its fleet of 40 vehicles, Transportes Rafa de Baja California is one of 36 long-haul truck operators in Mexico poised to participate in a one-year demonstration project supported by the U.S. and Mexican governments.

Godínez said much of the opposition in Mexico stems from apprehension that large U.S. companies will displace smaller Mexican firms and take over their routes inside Mexico. “There’s a lot of fear,” he said. “It’s like when you’re going to get married and you don’t know what will happen when you walk through that door. You say, ‘Will it go well? I sure hope so.’ ”

According to figures published by Canacar, citing data from the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which oversees the program, the overwhelming majority of Mexican companies with preauthorization to participate in the demonstration program are from Mexico’s northern border area. Nearly half are from cities near California. Close to 70 percent of applications are from small companies, according to the report. Some Mexican companies have been moving their goods across the United States for years by forming their own U.S. companies. Others form ties with a U.S. company. Transportes Rafa cooperates with family members in the United States who operate the Calexico-based company Rocha Trucking and Parking Inc.

Godínez said he has been preparing his company to cross its own trucks. His fleet includes 24 Kenworth 18-wheelers built in Mexico to U.S. specifications; the two he wants to enroll in the program meet U.S. emission standards.

truck2.jpgAll of his company’s employees routinely take drug tests, and he has installed motion-sensitive security cameras around his trucks to prevent anyone from breaking into his shipments. The company’s biggest hurdle will be finding drivers who can learn enough English to communicate with U.S. inspectors and law enforcement officers.

“It’s difficult to find someone who speaks English,” said Godínez’s son Rafael Godínez Beltrán, a 24-year-old international business student who is the company’s manager. “I think that companies who have bilingual drivers aren’t going to let them go for anything.”

The company still must purchase insurance before it can get a final go-ahead, a step it plans to take this week.

Rafael Godínez Sandoval, owner of Transportes Rafa de Baja California and sonsTransportes Rafa has come a long way since Godínez’s father started delivering bales of alfalfa five decades ago in a Mack truck. Today, the company shuttles 40-foot containers filled with electronic components between the port of Ensenada and maquiladoras in Mexicali; moves cotton from Mexicali to Ensenada for export to Asia; and carries U.S.-made electronic goods from the border to central Mexico.Godínez’s dreams involve expanding to both sides of the border. One day he hopes to double his fleet, with 40 trucks able to operate in both countries. But for now, he’ll start with one truck: “It’s going to be a test for us.”