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Canada Needs to Prepare for Negotiations on NAFTA

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The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), came into effect on January 1, 1994, creating the largest free trade region in the world. It was designed to generate economic growth and help raise the standard of living for the people of all three member countries.

“By any measure the NAFTA has been a success by serving as a basis to grow both trilateral and bilateral North American relationships and the results speak for themselves. This integration helps maximize our capabilities and make our economies more innovative and competitive. In 1993, trilateral trade within the North American region was over US$288 billion. In 2015, our total trilateral merchandise trade amounted to over US$ 1.0 trillion.” (Source: Government of Canada Global Affairs Canada website). This is a more than threefold increase since 1993.

During the recent US election, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump frequently spoke about the need to renegotiate NAFTA. They commonly highlighted the impact that “bad trade deals” as they were framed, had on American industry. As the election campaign unfolded, Hillary Clinton fell into line with her opponents on this issue. While the subject of renegotiating NAFTA has come up before, this time will likely be different. Here’s why.

Donald Trump has already stated that one of his major priorities is to create jobs in America. He campaigned with the slogan “Make America Great Again.” A big part of making America great again is bringing back jobs that were lost to other countries. This message resonated strongly with working class people living in “rust belt” states. In fact, the race for the Presidency was decided in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. These states turned their backs on the Democrats and voted for Donald Trump. To maintain the support of working class Americans in these states, Mr. Trump will have to demonstrate that he is trying to bring back jobs to these states. To better understand the challenges of people living in cities in this area, who have lost their jobs, I encourage everyone to read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (see my blog on the book http://www.dantranscon.com/index.php/blog?view=entry&id=253 ).

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On July 1, Canada celebrated its 149th birthday. Just prior to Canada Day, I had the privilege of speaking to a group of industry professionals on the topic of the Canadian freight market during a Stifel conference call. For those of you trying to learn more about America’s neighbor to the north, this and subsequent blogs will capture the highlights from the presentation.

Canada has a population of 36.3 million people, about one tenth the size of the United States and similar in size to the population of the state of California. The majority of the population lives within a 200 mile radius of the US border, the longest unprotected border in the world. About 20 million Canadians live in the major metropolitan locations of Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Edmonton, Quebec City, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Canada has the eleventh largest economy in the world.

From a freight perspective, the country can be divided into 4 distinct regions. Each region has its own industries and transportation challenges.

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The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2014. Since the enactment of NAFTA in 1994, trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico has increased almost 200 percent to an estimated $930 billion. The cross-border flow of goods between the U.S. and Canada has grown to $400 billion.

A new U.S. Transportation Department report shows three of the five surface transportation modes, truck, rail and pipeline, carried more U.S. trade with North American Free Trade Agreement partners Canada and Mexico by value in 2013 than compared to the year before. Most U.S.- Canada trade in 2013, 83.6%, was carried on the surface modes of truck, rail and pipeline. Trucks carried 54.4%, followed by rail at 16.7%, pipeline at 12.6%, vessel at 5.7% and air at 4.5%.

Michigan led all states in trade with Canada in 2013 with $74.6 billion. Of the top 10 states for U.S.-Canada trade in 2013, Washington had the highest percent change over 2012, a 6.4% increase. The top commodity category transported between the U.S. and Canada in 2013 was mineral fuels, valued at $134.1 billion, with $79.2 billion or 59.1% moved by pipelines. The next highest commodity category transported by a single mode in U.S.- Canada trade was vehicles and vehicle parts (other than railway vehicles and parts) with $66.1 billion in trade moved by trucks. Cross-border trade via truck and rail continues to show positive trade growth for Canada and the United States. The growth continues as freight transportation providers on both sides of the border strengthen their relationships with cross-border shippers.

Transforming words and good intentions into more concrete and long-term action, both the United States and Canada are promoting greater economic growth and jobs through a stronger, more visible commitment to regulatory cooperation. With greater opportunities for growth on the horizon, trucking companies on both sides of the border have bolstered their cross-border service offerings to accommodate trade. While Canada and the United States have been good friends for many years and have the longest unpatrolled border in the world, they are distinctly different countries. The two countries have different geographies, climates, cultures, currencies, populations, laws and transportation systems. A failure to understand the unique features of each country can lead to fines, service problems and unhappy customers.

As an example, Canadian e-Commerce is expected to grow at a double-digit pace over the next few years, and U.S. businesses are increasingly tapping in to that $32 billion annual market. But the not-so-good news is that businesses are bumping into unexpected challenges in transporting those goods from the U.S. to their Canadian consumers. A new research brief, “Canadian e-Commerce Presents New Opportunities for U.S. Businesses,” details those challenges, and also highlights ways in which U.S. businesses are overcoming those obstacles. The research brief details findings of a study conducted by Peerless Research Group in which supply chain managers were queried about issues with U.S./Canada e-Commerce shipping.

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As the year 2013 winds down, it is time to reflect on the major transportation trends of the past year.  While I saw and read about a wide range of developments, these are the ones that resonated most with me.

1.Technology Comes to Freight Transportation

Last year I predicted that we would see a flurry of new technologies come to freight transportation.  They did and I wrote about some of these new companies on several occasions during the year.  Technology was successfully applied to the freight brokerage business, freight portals, LTL density calculations and to other segments of the industry.  Buytruckload.com, PostBidShip, Freightopolis, QuoteMyTruckload,  and Freightsnap were featured in various blogs during the year.  They are changing the way business is done in freight transportation.  Watch for more of these companies to surface in 2014.

2013 has been called the Year of the Network by numerous supply chain and transportation industry thought leaders.  Companies that built a successful supply chain trading partner network focused on three elements:

Connectivity— unite disparate systems and trading partners

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If your trucking company hasn’t been purchased or doesn’t get purchased by TransForce, will it be in business in five years?  That is the question that came up in a recent discussion with a long time industry colleague.  The response I received was that he didn’t think his company would survive.  I was a bit surprised by the response and asked him for an explanation.  This led to an interesting discussion on what it is going to take to make it in the trucking industry in 2014 and beyond.

We both agreed that while the trucking industry has changed in some ways over the past decade (e.g. more use of technology, better cost controls after the Great Recession, LNG vehicles, greater use of 3PLs as customers), the industry is not that much different from ten years ago.  The slow economic turnaround since 2008 has created a challenging environment and there is little reason to expect a major improvement in the short term.  Rate increases are hard to come by, even with a tight driver situation.  Even more of a concern is the lack of innovation in the industry and the threat that such changes could wreak on so many complacent companies.

The warning signs are there.  As a Canadian, you don’t have to look much further than Nortel and Blackberry to see what can happen to industry leaders that were not able to keep up with changing consumer needs and quality competitors.  At the same time, one can observe what companies such as Amazon and Apple have been able to do to change the paradigm of some long established industries. 

Some of the large trucking industry players are making investments in technology and people.  They are integrating back offices and focusing on achieving economies of scale.  They are thoughtfully expanding their service portfolios and geographic footprints. 

Some of the small players are offering solutions that are very tailored to certain industry verticals and geographic areas.  Companies that are focused on same day delivery, refrigerated intermodal service, pooled LTL service, energy distribution and other emerging capabilities are creating a space for themselves in the industry.

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