Mexico Cross-Border Trucking – A Mexican Border Perspective

The Journal of Commerce recently quoted Luis Paz Vega who is in leadership of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) office at the DC Mexican embassy – that redoing the Mexican Truck in the US “demonstration program” won’t work. They instead want us to adhere to NAFTA and open the border up. Here’s some thoughts…

This past week was the well-attended annual Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA) convention down on the Arizona-Mexico border. It’s a great group of major and smaller growers, packers, shippers, distributors, customs brokers, buyers of these products and industry suppliers. My better half Robin Lucky is in the industry and FPAA graciously let me attend.

Of course, I love the people because they are of the earth (farmers and feeders of the world) and it allows me to reminisce about my pre-college years of driving tractors and operating harvesting equipment – plus my Jatropha farming atZenergy.

These are also the nicest folks you’d ever want to hang out and do business with. I also learned a long time ago that many shippers (especially those doing it internationally – air, sea and cross-border) look at trucking as a black hole. We try to help counter that image.

Having been involved in doing beef across the border to Canada for 20-years (before and after NAFTA), I know it can be done down South. Having visited the crossing operations on both borders at US Customs, DOT and USDA, one can understand the similarities and differences. From a safety standpoint, the USDOT and the State Commercial Vehicle compliance folks work hard and do a pretty good job of inspections. We do need to accelerate the flow in the overall process with each entity.

We and others have written in these articles and in the general media about the politics of the process on the US side. While the source article notes that it generally takes three trucks to move a trailer from the Mexican shipper to the US receiver, that is only the case for those like Swift – TransMex and Celadon Group – Jaguar, each with their Mexican operations, and then Schneider National, Werner Enterprises, Landstar System, Inc, Con-way Truckload and a number of smaller carriers using outside Mexican carriers. Some Mexican carriers do have US operations – and others like us are trying to help smaller shippers figure a better flow out.

However for most of the freight, it also includes a warehouse unloading / reloading on the border where freight is pulled from Mexican trailers and then reloaded on US ones. For freight going South, it’s a similar deal. Of course all of this adds time and cost. This becomes a huge issue with perishables – where Mexican growers are in part replacing those disappearing from California (more but separate political / water issues). Many of the folks who grow in California are doing more in Mexico.

This gets us back to the NAFTA position from Mexico. When you listen to the grower community talk about their biggest issues, the border issue is one of top ones. When these folks find out that I’m involved in the trucking world, we get it by the truckload. The Mexican government is really trying to help grow the ag sector to offer jobs, feed their own people and export a safe product to the world – and are getting more than an earful from people wanting to expedite the border flow. In other words, the Mexican noise is being prompted by the private sector seeking efficiencies.

We still contend that allowing trucks beyond the commercial zones will not be a big deal once implemented. We won’t see a flood of Mexican trucks in the US for a variety of reasons. Shoot, this could also help with the “pending” US driver shortages many are predicting. There are also some inexpensive technologies we can put into place that we need to do anyway, which we can use in monitoring what we want for risk mitigation. A good point to remember is that C-TPAT is underutilized because of the breaks in the chain-of-custody, so it helps here too.

For stuff going South, we agree that the tariffs are hurting the Mexican people, along with a variety of US exporters. But now it has come down to issues of trust. I know on the trucking side, Mexican truckers don’t necessarily trust US truckers and vice-versa – except for those noted previously who have built relationships / processes themselves. For those touting unsafe Mexican trucks, just compare over-the-road Mexican trucks to over-the-road US trucks – then cross-border dray trucks to those at US ports and rail terminals.

Delays in making the NAFTA decision results in delays in building trust. This with delays at the border results in higher costs, less freight efficiency, a less safe / secure supply-chain, fresher perishables’ products, traceability issues, more chances for logistics problems, more greenhouse gases and many other issues. The private sector and compliance folks on both sides of the border want to make it better, so therein lays the opportunity.

Analysis by JAY THOMPSON

President and General Manager,Transportation Business Associates