Jean-Paul Rodrigue (2017), New York:
Routledge, 440 pages.
Transborder and Crossborder Transportation
Authors: Dr. William Anderson and Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue
Anderson: Director of Cross-Border
Transportation Centre (CBTC), Ontario Research Chair in
Cross-Border Transportation Policy, Department of Political
Sciences, University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
1. International Transportation
"Whosoever commands the sea commands trade; whosoever commands the
trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently
the world itself". Sir Walter Raleigh (c1610).
The growth of the amount of freight being traded as well
as a great variety of origins and destinations promotes
the importance of international transportation as
a fundamental element supporting the global economy. Economic
development in Pacific Asia and in China in particular has
been the dominant factor behind the growth of international
transportation in recent years. Since the trading distances
involved are often considerable, this has resulted in increasing
demands on the maritime shipping industry and on port activities.
As its industrial and manufacturing activities develop,
China is importing growing quantities of raw materials and
energy and exporting growing quantities of manufactured
goods. The ports in the
Pearl River delta in Guangdong province now handle as many containers as all the ports in the United States
International transportation systems have been under increasing
pressures to support additional demands in freights volume
and the distance at which this freight is being carried.
This could not have occurred without considerable technical
improvements permitting to transport larger quantities of
passengers and freight, and this more quickly and more efficiently.
Few other technical improvements than containerization have
contributed to this environment of growing mobility of freight.
Since containers and their intermodal transport systems
improve the efficiency of global distribution, a growing
share of general cargo moving globally is containerized.
Consequently, transportation is often referred to as an
enabling factor that is not necessarily the cause
of international trade, but as a condition without which
globalization could not have occurred. A common development
problem is the inability of international transportation
infrastructures to support flows, undermining access to
the global market and the benefits that can be derived from
international trade. International trade also requires
distribution infrastructures that can support trade
between several partners. Three components of international
transportation facilitate trade:
About half of all global trade takes place between locations
of more than 3,000 km apart. Because of this geography,
most international freight movements involve several modes
since it is impossible to have a physical continuity in
freight flows. Transport chains
must thus be established to service these flows which reinforce
the importance of intermodal transportation modes and terminals
at strategic locations. Among the numerous transport modes,
two are specifically concerned with international trade:
- Transportation infrastructure. Concerns physical
infrastructures such as terminals, vehicles and networks.
Efficiencies or deficiencies in transport infrastructures
will either promote or inhibit international trade.
- Transportation services. Concerns the complex
set of services involved in the international circulation
of passengers and freight. It includes activities such as
distribution, logistics, finance, insurance and marketing.
- Transactional environment. Concerns the complex
legal, political, financial and cultural setting in which
international transport systems operate. It includes aspects
such as exchange rates, regulations, quotas and tariffs,
but also consumer preferences.
Road and railway modes tend to occupy a more marginal portion
of international transportation since they are above all
modes for national or regional transport services. Their
importance is focused on their role in the "first
and last miles" of global distribution. Freight
is mainly brought to port and airport terminals by trucking
or rail. There are however notable exceptions in the role
of overland transportation in international trade. A substantial
share of the NAFTA trade between
Canada, United States and Mexico is supported by trucking,
as well as large share of the Western European trade. In
spite of this, these exchanges are at priori regional by
definition, although intermodal transportation confers a
more complex setting in the interpretation of the
geographical scale of these flows.
2. International Transportation and Geopolitics
The basic features of international transportation are constrained
by its geography, which involves geopolitical considerations.
In the past many wars have been started to gain control over trade routes,
to gain control over mineral or energy deposits, to gain colonial control
over untapped regions, or to set trade routes via existing ocean ports.
This has been particularly important for maritime nations seeking to
support the existing trade, expand it and secure its circulation. Through
history, passages were subject to many conflicts that generally aimed
to assure a control of a strategic location. International transport
infrastructures, such as ports, airports and canals were also subject
to geopolitical considerations as they can provide access to strategic
resources or key markets. The geopolitics of international transportation
can be considered from five perspectives:
- Ports and maritime shipping. The importance of
maritime transportation in global freight trade in unmistakable,
particularly in terms of
tonnage as it handles
about 90% of the global trade. Thus, globalization is the
realm of maritime shipping, with containerized shipping
at the forefront of the process. The
global maritime transport
system is composed of a series of major gateways granting
access to major production and consumption regions. Between
those gateways are major hubs acting as points of interconnection
and transshipment between systems of maritime circulation.
- Airports and air transport. Although in terms
tonnage air transportation carries an insignificant amount
of freight (0.2% of total tonnage) compared with maritime
transportation, its importance in terms of the
total value is much
more significant; 15% of the value of global trade. International
air freight is about 70 times more valuable than its maritime
counterpart and about 30 times more valuable than freight
carried overland, which is linked with the types of goods
it transports (e.g. electronics). The
location of freight airports corresponds to high technology
manufacturing clusters as well as intermediary locations
where freight planes are refueled and/or cargo is transshipped.
3. Boundaries and Borders
Globalization implies increasing flows of people and goods across
international borders. Thus, an increasing proportion of personal and
freight transportation operations must cope with borders as impediments
to movement. At a time when tariff barriers are falling and technologies
for identification and surveillance are proliferating, this might seem
to be no great problem, as borders are more easily crossed than in the
past. However, concerns with issues of international terrorism and illegal
immigration have led some states to ever more scrutiny at their borders.
Thus, crossing borders remains one of the greatest challenges in global
transportation for both passengers and freight.
A boundary is an abstract line separating the territories over which
two states have sovereignty. Since the boundary is a legal entity, its
precise location must be determined in a treaty between the two states.
This means that for a state to have
precisely defined territory, it must have boundary treaties with
all contiguous states. Even where such treaties exist, the boundary
may be delineated on paper but not demarcated on the ground, which means
its exact location cannot be found without surveying. The border is
a more broadly defined geographical entity, comprising elements of the
natural and built environment that define the boundary and control passage
Sometimes the distinction between the boundary and the border is
one of precision; for example, one might say that a river defines the
border between two countries, while the boundary is a precise line located
somewhere on the river. The main point is that the border includes a
set of things that facilitate (roads, bridges, ferries), prevent (fences,
military installations), monitor (cameras, motion detectors) and control
(border crossing facilities) movement across the boundary. Borders also have the effect of creating
transportation networks, which are commonly associated with a
concentration a cross-border flows along a limited number of
gateways. Cross-border flows in
North America are
particularly illustrative since they are intensive and take place at
specific points of entry. Due to differences in air transportation
regulation, air travel tends to be less expansive in the United
States than Canada, inciting the use of
American border airports by Canadians. Further, a customs
agreement exists between Canada and the United States, enabling
passengers bound to the United States to clear customs at the main
While boundaries have become more clearly delineated and immutable,
it might appear that borders – or more specifically border functions
– are declining in importance. At one time, the most important border function
was defense. Since territory increasingly defined the state, defending
territory was critical to preserving sovereignty. To some extent, the
territorial integrity norm has reduced the importance of border defense.
But changes in the technology of warfare that undermine the importance
and even the possibility of defending lines on the ground have also
reduced the defensive function of borders. After defense, the main functions
of borders are customs and immigration control. With the reduction of
tariffs and the application of information and communications technology
to both customs and immigration, one might expect that borders as impediments
to the movement of goods and people would be matter of declining importance.
Yet, a "borderless world" is far from being a reality and in some places
such as North America border impediments have actually increased in
recent years, particularly along the US - Mexico border. The border
thus remains an important element impacting transportation activities
4. Cross-border Transportation
- Conquest. Transport technology was initially a mean to
control and conquer oceans, territories and resources. European
powers were the first to improve significantly the maritime technology
in terms of military potential and were thus able
to establish maritime trading roads and colonies all over the world,
particularly from the mid of the 19th century.
This period of early globalization was thus characterized by the
usage of military advantages of European colonial powers to
access markets and resources to their advantage. The railroad was also a mean to achieve territorial conquest, notably
in North America (nation building) and in Africa (colonialism).
- Competition. International transportation is a mean to
compete on the global economy. Traditionally, through cabotage
regulations, many nations reserved the right to carry national
passengers and freight to national transport companies. For freight,
this is often associated with empty flows on the return trip. Although
cabotage regulations are still prevalent for air (air freedoms)
and maritime transportation (Jones Act), competition has become
a prevalent force in shaping modern transportation systems. For
several countries, the development of their international transport
system has favored exports and transport related activities such
as shipbuilding, trade and insurance. Several newly established
maritime nations in East Asia, such as South Korea, Taiwan and now
China have grown using this strategy. A new form of international
transport competition is related to the usage of
flags of convenience
where a maritime company can significantly reduce its costs by using
the fiscal advantages of another country.
- Jurisdiction. All sovereign nations have the jurisdiction
over their territories, including internal water bodies such as
lakes and rivers if they do not act as a boundary with another nation.
Any international transportation entering, exiting or going through
this jurisdiction is subject to national regulations. This jurisdiction
also applies to the maritime segment. The United Nations Convention
on the Law of the Sea Territorial waters in 1982 formally defined
different levels of jurisdiction a nation can have over its adjacent
sea. The territorial sea, a buffer of 12 nautical miles (22 km)
from the coast is considered as sovereign territory, both for the
above airspace and the seabed. Foreign ships are however allowed
passage, but by doing so being subject to national regulations.
This jurisdiction is partially extended to the
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) over which
a state has rights to the exploration and use of marine resources
(e.g. fishing, oil extraction). By convention, it extents to 200
nautical miles (370 km) but a state cannot prevent free passage
through the EEZ.
- Cooperation. Although international transportation mostly
involves competition, common interests obviously favor agreements
over different aspects involving access to infrastructures or setting
standards. By 1792, most countries along the Rhine agreed to free
navigation. Canada and the United States started from 1871 a long
process of negotiation and common management of the St. Lawrence
river that would eventually lead to the development of the St. Lawrence
Seaway in 1954. International trade within Europe was enhanced by
the adoption of a standard over rail gauges (1.435 meters). International
air transportation is subject to regulations over security, access
to specific gateways (air freedoms) and prices. Furthermore, the
emergence of economic blocs such as the European Union and the North
American Free Trade Agreement leans on common rules about transport
standards and prices. The emergence of continental landbridges,
such as the Eurasian
Landbridge represents a new and complex form of collaboration.
- Security. The control of strategic places is also an important
part of international transportation, mainly to reduce
vulnerability to disruptions and improve national security. As
the global economy becomes more interdependent, economies are
becoming vulnerable to supplies of raw materials, energy and
food. For instance, as the United States became more dependent
on external supplies of oil, its foreign policy shifted at
securing strategic locations
in oil trade, dominantly in the Middle East.
Cross-border transportation. The
activities, infrastructures and flows that insure the passage of
passengers and freight across an international border.
Cross-border transportation can be facilitated, monitored,
controlled and even prevented.
Unless all goods are unloaded and transferred at the border, cross-border
freight movement involves some trade in transportation services. For
example, if an American trucking company moves a consignment from a
U.S. origin to a Canadian destination, it is providing transportation
services in a foreign country as soon as it crosses the border. This
brings up two types of problems:
The classic problem of technical standards is when national rail
systems have inconsistent
track gauges, making it impossible to link networks across borders.
While most gauge inconsistencies have been resolved with adoption of
the standard gauge (1435 mm), some still exist, for example between
countries of the former Soviet Union that use the 1520 mm Russian gauge
and neighboring E.U. countries using standard gauge. Cross-border
transportation is also influenced by trade imbalances as it implies
different freight volumes depending on the direction of the border
crossing as well as empty
A more current problem, especially in North America, is inconsistency
in truck size and weight (TSW) standards. Most of the trade within NAFTA
is in goods moved by trucks, but the three countries have widely varying
TSW standards, with Mexico and Canada both allowing higher gross weights
and having more liberal regulations on long combination vehicles (LCVs)
than the United States. To complicate matters further, Canadian provinces
and U.S. states have their own TSW regulations, leading to 66 different
regulatory regimes within the NAFTA area. This presents carriers with
the choice between making cargo swaps between trucks with different
configurations or operating with the lowest common denominator configuration
that will be legal in all jurisdictions – generally a single semi-trailer
truck carrying no more than 36,288 KG (80,000 pounds).
Cabotage refers to the provision of transportation service between
two points within the same country by a foreign firm. Cabotage is restricted
under NAFTA in the sense that a Canadian truck could move loads from
a Canadian origin to U.S. destination or from U.S. origin to a Canadian
destination, but not between a U.S. origin and U.S. destination since
it would be considered as cabotage. The problem with cabotage
restrictions is that they lead to frequent empty back hauls,
especially at crossings where cross border flows are imbalanced. Cabotage restrictions reflect
the fact that NAFTA does not extend to free trade in transportation
services. In the case of the European Union, cabotage restrictions
have been lifted but only after many years of negotiation and legal
Despite trade liberalization, new technologies for communication
and surveillance, and improved border procedures, crossing borders
remains one of the principal challenges in global transportation.
The border effects
on freight distribution remains salient, even in areas where levels
of economic integration are high. Increased concern about clandestine transnational actors (drugs,
illegal immigration, terrorism) has led to a new regime of enhanced
scrutiny that has offset many of the institutional and technological
changes that once promised to make borders irrelevant. While the
threat of international terrorism is very real, the intensification
of scrutiny is reinforced by public opinion that is more aware of
the benefits of security than of the benefits of trade. Especially
in the United States, the strategy of interdiction takes priority
over trade facilitation.
- The first is compliance with technical standards
for transportation operators, which may vary between the two states.
- The second is cabotage restrictions that limit
the ability of transportation providers to sell their services in
a foreign country.