CROSS-BORDER CARGO TRANSPORTATION CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS
Managing a streamlined supply chain for cross-border cargo transportation entails much more than identifying the fastest, most efficient method of getting cargo from point A to point B. Current market challenges have been amplified due to the pandemic and now go beyond ensuring cargo arrives at the final destination on time. The safety of transportation workers as a result of internal processes is now at the forefront of cross-border transportation. After all, if the truck driver is not healthy enough to deliver the products, the products do not move. In the new normal, worker safety is more important than ever.
“Some of the challenges out there are found more so in the area of the trucks that are crossing and the drivers,” says Michael Ford, vice president of Government and Industry Affairs at BDP. “If I was a trucking company, how do I ensure my driver’s safety? When that driver gets in the cab every day, do I know they are healthy?”
Ford continues, “Setting up those types of protocols internally, ensuring that I’m putting a safe driver on the road and that they’re able to perform those tasks as if there’s any type of cross border is critical, especially now. Coordinating, communicating, setting that up, and ensuring that everything is in play really becomes important.”
When driver safety has been established, coordination efforts are challenged once again depending on the region the cargo is crossing. Each region presents a unique set of roadblocks from customs to short and long-haul planning times. Cross-border transport from the U.S. to Canada is a much different process than what U.S. to Mexico transport requires for success.
Although these challenges are not new, they include more variables that require streamlined coordination from the very beginning. Trade lanes are now more open and traveler impact has shifted, presenting opportunities along with the challenges.
“In the past, we have seen much more congestion than we do currently,” Ford notes. “It has always been there between the U.S. and Mexico. But now, while there is less cargo and less traffic running back and forth, it has improved processing time. So, less cargo, less travel. If anything, it has improved and allows U.S. and Mexico customs to do what they need to do–which is all about security and ensuring the right cargo is coming through.”
Technology continues to play a critical role in ensuring worker safety and the efficient transport of cargo. The pandemic created an environment where technology is no longer simply an option but a requirement for the continuation of operations as it provides alternatives to paper-processes and close-contact for workers and customs agents.
“Previously when trucks cross, the driver pulls over, gets out of the cab, and hands paperwork over,” Ford says. “So, the question now is how do we achieve that full paperless experience on both sides in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico? When the driver pulls off, I need to know I have the driver, the driver’s ID, etc. and technology supports the keeping up with this information. It also keeps the driver in the cab and allows whatever information needed to be accessed.
“Advanced data has allowed a lot of that to take place. Being able to share and obtain better inter-agency cooperation goes a long way to helping the flow of cargo across the borders.”
Technology is a part of the bigger picture. Without technology, the constant exchange of information and obtaining updated data is slowed down. Without inter-agency communications along with customs collaborations, cross-border operations are at risk for further delay. Collaborations between customs agents are the key to making operations for cross-border providers more simplified and accelerated. This incorporates security and accuracy while verifying the right cargo continues to its final destination.
“U.S. Customs has been working with Mexico and vice versa to establish points inside of the other’s country and allowing personnel to set up there,” Ford says. “In the case of letting Mexican Customs come into U.S. territory and process the clearance, it allows that truck to go all the way through, eliminating the need for stopping at the border area. This makes a world of a difference and it speeds everything up. It requires the need for cooperation of the companies that want to improve their business flow. Changing to a brand-new environment for cross borders is big.”
Beyond reducing interactions, the overall reduction of paper processes and redundancies continues to be at the top of mind for companies engaging in cross-border operations. Along with its other supply chain disruptions, COVID-19 has pushed logistics players toward paperless and contactless operations, adding more pressure to the already complex market. For some, utilizing the technology toolbox (such as blockchain) could be the very thing that overcomes the hurdles presented by the pandemic.
“We hear a lot about blockchain, and there are applications inside of this cross-border sector where blockchain can be used as a piece of technology,” Ford says. “Instead of paper, using a blockchain technology to prove that your goods qualify under the USMCA agreement should be in play, for example.”
Regardless of whether the world is battling a pandemic, streamlined collaboration will ultimately pave the way for successful cross-border trade. This requires the latest data for every participant, thorough internal and external communications, and solid business relationships with a common goal to ensure products are received safely and accurately.
“Everybody needs to be involved,” Ford maintains. “It is everybody working together: the carrier, the custom-house broker, the government, and all others. It is also about forming that type of relationship where information is being shared and collected, and as much in advance as possible is part of the success that needs to happen.”
He concludes: “Things can’t just stay the way they have been. But on the other side of things, we need cargo security and the customs officers from the U.S. and Mexico need to be safe. We talk about COVID-19 and workers, but we are also asking those officers to be on the front lines. Keeping that in play becomes a big challenge.”
Michael Ford is a career professional with more than 40 years of experience in international transportation, specializing in import/export documentation and regulatory compliance. Among his other affiliations, Mr. Ford is the co-chair for Trade on the Export Committee in the development of the new Customs ACE system and has served with Customs as a member of COAC (Commercial Operations Advisory Council), chair of the Mid-Atlantic District Export Council and the partner sector with the American Chemistry Council, Responsible Care Committee. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This article was originally published in December 2020