NAFTA Wink-Nudge Stalls Mexico’s Trucking in US

The US-Mexican ‘”frontera” is a hot spot for turf rumbles and tariff tussles, on a personal and national scale. At this month’s Leaders Summit in Guadalajara. Presidents Calderon and Obama and Prime Minister Harper classically ducked the thorny subject of NAFTA’s stalled agreement for bi-national trucking reciprocity for Mexico. I suppose Mr. Harper got smart and ducked out to check his voice mail.

As part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the U.S. agreed to allow Mexican trucks unrestricted access to deliver goods in the U.S., a pledge it has never fully honored because US-based road safety advocates, environmental regulators, and union officials say Mexico’s trucks and drivers have yet to meet U.S. standards. NAFTA rules would also have allowed Mexican trucks to pick up cargo to return to Mexico.

Removing restrictions that prevent Mexican trucks from delivering goods across the border has been a top issue for President Calderon since the U.S. Congress, citing safety concerns, ended a pilot program in March 2009 that, for the first time, had allowed “some” Mexican-registry trucks “some” access to US byways. Upon program’s end, Mexico retaliated by imposing $2.4 billion in tariffs on imported U.S. goods, affecting companies such as Procter & Gamble Co. and Mary Kay Inc. As a result of the inaction and competitive obstacles being faced by its members, Mexico’s National Freight Transportation Chamber (Canacar) representing some 4,500 trucking companies, seeks $6 billion in compensation from the U.S. government because of the trucking conflict, alleging its northern neighbor wasn’t complying with NAFTA.

P&G and Mary Kay, along with CANACAR member truckers, are very large concerns, with orbits of smaller traders, suppliers and vendors relying upon them for their success. All sides are inflicting collateral damage in this turf war, and offer valid and compelling arguments that need to be heard as consensus is reached.

My sense is that this trucking agreement has never been more than lo-cal sweetener thrown onto the NAFTA cake by US negotiators, an overly-optimistic political wink-n-nudge that no US administration has ever cared enough about to cultivate. Somewhere between the US teamster’s claims of poor reliability and safety of Mexican equipment, US environmentalists’ opposition to Mexican truck entry based upon clean air standards, the pro-export, pro-open borders coalition of US exporters; and Mexican trucking enterprises who tire of waiting for the green light to unfettered access to the US transport market … lies the hard truth.

Connected Home Technology’s Brand Evolution

The other night in our family room, after swapping tales of funny things that each of us viewed and heard on the Internet that day, we gravitated towards a MacBook, watching stupid animal/people tricks on YouTube. While my son navigated, the remaining 6 of us huddled in, straining to hear and see while hooting and clapping and calling out for our own favorites. I looked across at the dark and silent TV and comfy chairs, and the nickel dropped… my personal meaning of “connected home” took root. If we could figure out the smartest interlinks between our household’s four MacBooks, four iPods, four mobile phones, two TVs, one XBox360, and one wireless broadband router, we’d be closer to family entertainment, Jetson-style.

Here’s what’s real for today’s “connected home” consumer:

  • if we subscribe to live broadcast TV on our smart phone — complete with channel surfing — then when we get home, said smart phone can render the same signal to our Internet-enabled TV set.
  • if we subscribe to Netflix, we can receive and send our DVDs via postal mail, while maintaining our queue online; or order content via Video On Demand (VOD), streamed through an Internet-enabled TV set
  • if we’re among the 100s of millions of social networkers on YouTube or Facebook, we can flip between personal devices and Internet-enabled TV sets to partake of video, audio and messaging.
  • Each of our personal devices render a wide range of content, from home-grown video to premium movies, and allow it to be viewed either on itself or on another, connected device like a TV. This is the missing puzzle piece for allowing group viewing experiences. Better still for the average consumer who’s beset with devices in every room: TVs and home audio systems that connect wirelessly to the Internet. Consumer buying trends verify double-digit, quarter-over-quarter unit sales growth. There’s also a healthy supporting market for set-top, Internet-enabling connectors that we now know as DVRs, set top boxes…

    A window is open to capture consumer brand leadership by evolving a product that is now simply a renderer or transmitter or converter — or embedded software within — into a household distribution center, for single-family residences and multi-tenant/multi-dwelling unit buildings (dorms, hospitals, condos, office suites) In essence, someone can stake claim to the friendly, non-threatening brand that the pioneers at TiVo so deftly created more than five years ago. Cisco Systems is well into the game through their legacy as equipment provider for cable companies. But I suggest that they look anew at their devices’ brand attributes and naming, even their industrial designs in order to move closer to brand personification as a friendly and trusted household device, especially vital to attract direct consumer sales from TechnoMom shoppers.

    News coverage from the January 2010 Consumer Electronics Show will likely be dominated by the news of Internet-enabled TVs and connected household controls that appeal to consumers who seek a better way to connect and stay connected.

    Renewable Energy’s Tipping Point

    Earlier, I pointed to legislation that signals broad acceptance of the renewable energy sector across all continents. Various countries are taking the initiative to invite capture and conversion of solar, wind, and thermal energy. (see 3 Aug blog) Heretofore not thought of as energy titans — i.e., no formidable oil or gas reserves — these countries now play a global role in renewable energy acceptance, as supplier/exporter and consumer/import.

    Cause and effect is in play here — backed by government funds and tax savings, our utility companies prod subscribers to go green and use less of their output, not more. They co-fund valuable community information campaigns, trade fairs, and education centers that contribute to reduced power consumption and top-of-mind pursuit of alternative energy. Commendable, though not altogether altruistic, since state public utility commissions mandate that they meet rollout targets in order to receive public funds that in turn subsidize said information campaigns and programs. Key industrial power consumers dictate renewable set-asides when negotiating annual rates, too. Earning reports from the power supplier in my region were smashingly good last quarter, so taking the lead role as concerned corporate partner polishes their public image while forestalling grumbling from cash-strapped rate payers.

    Atop this growing swell of acceptance sits the enlightened power consumer, who is nudging the renewable energy industry toward tipping point, one block at a time. It’s hard to argue against the viability and long-term cost savings offered by alternative energy in transportation, manufacturing, and residential power grids. When legislation and utility companies support its acceptance, and with progressive, optimistic consumers taking the lead as influencers, then suppliers of goods and services can foresee solid revenue growth in every region of the world.

    Watch the renewable energy industry sector blossom for providers of goods and services, with companies like these located on every continent:

  • Adhesives and film technologies for windows that save energy by reading the time of day and amount of sunlight, and auto-tinting. See more at 3M.
  • Daylighting zero-energy lighting systems for home, commercial and institutional settings. Tubes and skylights that transform a plain old roof into an economic asset. Check out Daylight Inside and Solatube.
  • Retrocommissioning (“RCx”) a consultation service that audits building operations and unites owners with their local utility for technical and financial assistance to eliminate waste. The enterprising team at Portland Energy Conservation, Inc. has packaged their solutions as a “private label”, value-added service for multiple utility companies. In San Diego, for instance, you’ll find them identified as San Diego RCx, teamed with San Diego Gas & Electric Company.
  • Iowa Thin Film Technologies is among a global group of innovators, and rubs elbows with the likes of Kyocera, Sharp, and Sanyo. A quick peek at their website confirms the limitless growth potential in military, industrial, commercial, and residential sectors for developers and manufacturers of thin, flexible solar panels.

    Perfect Storm? Critical Mass? Choose your metaphor…The end result, though, is that entrepreneurs, property owners, and utility companies all win with more renewable energy choices.

  • Renewable Energy Laws Spur Global Investment

    I’ve noticed that momentous changes to the rules by which we all live and work often start out on the frontiers, then flow back inward. New ways of doing old business, new industries, even shifts in societal and family rules are often hatched out of necessity by out-there, pragmatic pioneers who seek a better way, compared to that which they left behind on the old turf.

    Energy exploration and distribution is but one example: in the last century, risk-takers and speculators followed their noses Out West to oil fields and, working unfettered and unregulated, yielded oil and funneled it out to refineries and Back East to gas meters, street lamps, and fuel pumps. At homes, in factories, and on street corners, the lights came on, and nothing was ever the same. “I Drink Your Milkshake” was next tamed by regulation and legislation, only upon proof of profits.

    Today, we see a new rush worldwide to claim, harness, and disperse power derived from renewable energy. Countries with no influence in today’s fossil fuel-centric energy sector are starting out by crafting legislation that boosts their place in the global renewable energy arena. Iceland’s thermal geysers. Egypt’s desert wind. Chile’s sun.

    The great difference? These power sources – wind and sun – aren’t land-locked, owned, or claimed, avoiding much of the low-brow attempts to wrest control and access from unsuspecting or underfunded landowners. Human nature being what it is, I imagine it’s harder to quicken the pulse of pioneer speculators and profiteers. That being said…

    Here’s legislative news to watch, and what its enactment will mean to refiners, conveyors, and consumers of renewable energy; and to manufacturers and service providers with a stake in renewable energy growth such as Photovoltaic Solar Panel Manufacturers from Iowa to Korea:

  • The Philippine government signed a new Renewable Energy Law, offering specific incentives (mainly tax breaks) for renewable generation — a first for Southeast Asia.
  • Chile’s Renewable Energy Legislation requires electricity generators of more than 200MW to source 10% of their energy mix from renewables.
  • Japan unveiled a new $9 billion subsidy package for solar roofs, granting JPY 70,000 ($785)/kW for rooftop PV installation.
  • Next up, I’ll discuss bright spots in renewables investments and manufacturing and service sectors that signal our collective intent to accept and adapt alternative energy in transportation, manufacturing, and utilities.

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