November 2006 | How-To | Ten Tips

Finding the Best NAFTA Carriers

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The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was crafted to reduce tariff complexity and foster efficient movement of goods between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The challenge for shippers is finding carriers that can maneuver among the three government jurisdictions, and understand and follow their rules.

NAFTA carriers have secured the required licensing and registration in all three jurisdictions, and have operations and personnel in each country. Ned Moritz, vice president of marketing for Con-way Inc.—the parent of Con-way Freight, Con-way Truckload, and Menlo Logistics—offers these 10 tips for finding the best carriers to smooth the flow of your cross-border supply chain.

1. Search for a dedicated carrier. Make sure the carrier you select has the right people in the right places. If the carrier does not have its own people and operations—including facilities and equipment—in Canada and Mexico, it better be very well-connected across the borders with solid affiliations.

2. Investigate the carrier's history. You need to know how well the company is entrenched in Canada or Mexico. Are its customers happy? Does it understand the nuances of each country's different business practices, culture, rules, and regulations? Ask for a customer list to get references.

3. Make sure the information technology goes across the border. A carrier is only as good as its IT system; the information has to reach across borders and interface with every facet of the company. Does the carrier's web site display the shipper's transportation activity in one record for the entire cross-border move?

4. Insist on 'no middle man' tracking. Look for a company that can track the movement of goods completely from pickup to delivery. A middle man spells problems. With language barriers in Mexico, cultural differences across borders, and increased security, having access to a system that provides visibility to your shipments along the supply chain, at any point with the click of a button, is essential.

5. Ask for paperwork. Is the carrier you are considering certified by the governments on both sides of any border for C-TPAT, PIP, FAST, and other government programs? These programs ensure that the carrier has adopted and follows all the necessary rules and procedures to guarantee that it properly documents and handles cross-border freight. These certifications also ensure that the carrier consistently manages the transportation of goods within the boundaries of regulatory guidelines. The bottom line? The freight moves as quickly and efficiently as possible, while adhering to today's stringent national security mandates.

6. Look for an ACE-certified carrier. When moving freight from Canada into the United States, select a carrier that is ACE (Automated Commercial Environment) certified with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. If you transport a high volume of freight through the borders, this becomes essential because ACE certification enables the carrier to move freight more quickly.

7. Don't be afraid to ask for help. If you are a first-time cross-border shipper, don't be afraid to ask questions and request extra services from your carrier. If you do not have a broker, a good carrier can help you find one.

8. Get educated on the process. You need to be confident that your carrier is familiar with all the paperwork necessary for a successful border crossing, and that it produces the necessary paperwork quickly and accurately. Check out Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org), which provides background and an explanation of the NAFTA agreement. You also can access paperwork from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Office of NAFTA and Inter-American Affairs (www.mac.doc.gov/nafta).

9. Search for a bilingual company. If you ship between Mexico and the United States, or to Quebec, having a carrier with a bilingual staff is very helpful.

10. Be sure of the price quote, and understand the terms and conditions that apply to your freight as it travels within the boundaries of each nation. Make sure you also clearly understand and consider any possible additional fees and charges the carrier may apply for handling NAFTA freight. The standard liability term within Canada is $2 CDN per pound. The standard liability within Mexico is 10 cents per U.S. pound. Within the United States the liability varies and is published in the carrier's rules tariff. Carrier liability at the shipment's origin does not necessarily carry over when the freight crosses a border.

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