COVID-19 has shed light on the importance of shippers being prepared to work through unforeseen market conditions. This is especially true for cross-border shippers, whose businesses are reliant on multiple countries’ markets. To better prepare for these variations, businesses that rely on cross-border shipping should consider optimizing their supply chain strategies now by dedicating time to understand the cross-border options available to them. There are two primary choices: through-trailer and transloading.
What’s the difference?
Through-trailer shipping is the process of moving shipments in the origin trailer through border crossings. Whether exporting or importing, through-trailer shipments are handled on one side of the border with a carrier from the same country who has an interchange agreement. A different carrier from the other country handles the second part of the shipment.
To illustrate, a Mexico carrier with a trailer interchange agreement with a U.S. carrier picks up the freight. It’s taken to a secure yard where a border drayage driver transports the trailer across the border to the U.S. carrier’s yard for final delivery.
The shipment remains in the same trailer throughout the transport process, leading some shippers to believe the shipment seal is not broken. This is not necessarily true. U.S. and Mexico customs officials often break seals during border crossing inspections to verify product details.
Transloading is another option and is often considered more efficient. Transloading is the process of transferring shipments from one trailer to another at the border crossing. For example, a Mexico carrier picks up the freight and moves it to a secure yard at the border. A border drayage carrier moves the trailer across the border to a transloading facility. The facility then transfers the product to a U.S. carrier for final delivery.
The Benefits of Transloading
While both options have their pros and cons, transloading can offer some unique benefits that fall into three categories:
Additional Carrier Capacity: Transloading offers shippers additional carrier capacity because it enables them to access the full capacity of two independent carrier bases. Any U.S. carrier can pair with any Mexico carrier on a shipment, increasing available carrier options and granting additional flexibility. Through-trailer service only allows shippers to use carriers with an interchange agreement in place with a counterpart carrier on the other side of the border, limiting the capacity pool. With lessened demand not filling up truckloads, the ability to leverage the additional carrier capacity to identify which carriers’ trucks best match truckloads keeps products moving to meet consumer demand.
Lower Shipping Costs: Transloading grants access to additional capacity on both sides of the border, which means more, and potentially more efficient, carrier options. With transloading, shippers and logistics providers can identify carriers whose networks most closely align with theirs, resulting in more cost-effective rates. During a time when all departments are urged to cut costs where possible, the method with lower shipping costs benefits everyone involved.
Fewer Border Delays: The broad variety of carriers available to shippers makes it easier to source carriers on both sides of the border that best match the ideal pick-up and delivery time frames. Through-trailer shipments are dependent upon the limited capacity of the two carriers tied to an interchange agreement. In turn, this can lead to delays at borders and in overall shipments. Such delays are becoming more widespread because of the imbalance between northbound and southbound freight.
The Types of Freight to be Transloaded
Any specialized transloading facility located near a major border should have the ability to handle a variety of freight, although some types work better than others. Freight loaded on slip sheets or pallets typically fare best with transloading, especially consumer packaged goods, food and beverage, and raw materials. Transloading is also prevalent when shipping to warehouses with strict labeling and palletization requirements. Conversely, freight is better off using through-trailer shipping when it requires specialized loading, contains over-dimensional products, or includes flatbed shipments.
The needs of each shipper with a global supply chain strategy differ and come with unique challenges and requirements. It’s critical for each shipper to know their cross-border options and determine which will work best for their business. By being knowledgeable and prepared, shippers can more easily select which process to implement based on what is most important to their company at the time, whether that be price, shipping time, or carrier capacity.
Kyle Toombs is the VP and Head of Mexico and Canada at Coyote Logistics