Seven centuries ago, Marco Polo returned to his native Italy filled with wondrous stories of the amazing cities and countryside of Cathay (China). And he backed it up with items that he had obtained through trade. Europe had suddenly started its trek down the path of commercial globalization. And today, with the advent of the Internet and e-commerce, globalization has substantially picked up its pace, presenting merchants and their carriers with profitable new opportunities.


What does this mean for shippers and their carriers? A gargantuan amount of merchandise must be moved around the block and around the world. For those carriers who are ready to meet the challenge, there is a seemingly endless amount of business available for the taking. For shippers, though, it means choosing carefully among providers to ensure success.


The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has sped up the pace of international trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico. Sometimes, those of us in the US forget that even though we can simply load our goods on a truck instead of freighter aircraft or containerized ships, theres still plenty to learn in establishing smooth, profitable shipping to and from Mexico.


South of the Border

More and more US companies are learning the benefits of doing business in and with Mexico. The benefits of lower labor and material costs are well-known, but Mexican business also offers innovation and a decreased time to market. However, its essential for anyone shipping to and from Mexico to be aware of some of the pitfalls.


For instance, less than truckload (LTL) shipments have a higher incidence of theft than full truckload. And while US shippers are typically accustomed to receiving goods on schedule, this isnt always possible when importing goods from Mexico because goods dont always arrive in warehouses from Mexico in a timely manner.


Border Crossing Concerns

Then there are delays in border crossings. Although this situation is improving, its still a major headache and can result in a significant loss of productivity. Back-ups for miles are common. Although pre-clearance of shipments helps, it doesnt eliminate the need for each driver to wait in line for his turn.


Mexico is working very hard to improve its highways and road infrastructure, but it takes time. Meanwhile, drivers have to rough some rocky roads while they navigate their way to the border crossing. And, amazing as it seems, some facilities have been built with no reasonable regard for highway access.


Choosing a Carrier Partner

If you plan to succeed in Mexican-US shipping, its absolutely imperative that you select a carrier that understands the two countries cultural and economic differences. This will go a long way in helping to streamline your shipping requirements as well as the ability of your carrier to consistently meet all of your expectations.


When choosing a carrier partner, there are multiple criteria to consider. Three stand out: trust, expertise and technology.


Trust Your relationship with your carrier is, perhaps, one of the most important that your company will ever undertake. Without a reliable carrier, your business will suffer big time. You must be able to trust your carrier to deliver as promised, when promised, with no damage.


How do you determine the trustworthiness of a carrier? Look at the company itself. How long has it been in business? Does it take time out to understand its customers missions and requirements? Is it specialists in certain areas or jacks-of-all-trades? What do its existing customers have to say about its performance?


Always ask for references. And be sure to follow up on these references with prepared questions or a questionnaire. It will be clear after talking with a carriers best clients if it will or will not be a good match for your company.


Expertise Possessing specialized knowledge or skills is critical for the success of the carrier/shipper relationship. Without this, a carrier isnt able to contribute additional value to your supply chain. A carrier with true expertise can save you time, money and a lot of aggravation.


Again, the way to gauge a carriers level of expertise is to ask questions and plenty of them. For instance, does it have the resources on staff or through extended relationships to meet all of your shipping needs? Are its employees typically satisfied or is turnover high? How much understanding does it have of the culture and language of Mexico? What does the press say about the carrier youre considering?


If possible, tour the carriers headquarters or terminal locations. This is an excellent method for separating the chaff from the wheat. And its a very good way to begin building a personal relationship with your carriers people.


Technology We all know that information is power. That is especially true in todays fast-paced and highly connected society. The carrier that you select must be able to offer you a technology framework that meets your information needs today from EDI to Internet connectivity to FTP exchanges.


Ask about a potential carriers information systems. What sort of information can you access and how easily? Is training available? How timely is the information? What will the cost be to your organization?


Doing business in Mexico is definitely the wave of the future. But if your company is going to ride that wave successfully, youll need a partner to literally carry you a carrier!


Dennis Saverd is executive vice president, Transportation Sales with the Gilbert Companies. He may be reached at 908-474-0303 or