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April 03, 2020
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North American transborder freight flow plunged 3.3% in October

Combined imports and exports to both Canada and Mexico post biggest drop in 24 months and fourth decline in past six months, government says.

The value of freight flowing across America's northern and southern borders decreased sharply in October across all transportation modes, according to government figures released today. The total value of imports and exports traded with Canada and Mexico was $107.1 billion in October, down 3.3% compared to October 2018 for its biggest drop in 24 months.

The decrease followed a year-over-year drop of 0.2% in September and a drop of 1.7% in August, according to numbers from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Previously, the statistics had risen 1.2% in July, but were also down 2.3% in June, after rising 2.4% in May. The monthly statistic had not posted a drop as large as 3.3% since October of 2016, during a year in which the U.S. recorded its slowest economic growth in five years.

That churning pattern of dips and spikes comes at a time when lawmakers are debating updates to the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that could replace 1994's North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and while the White House levies a series of tariffs on international trade that have pushed retailers and manufacturers to seek greater clarity on stormy business conditions.

Zooming in for more detail on October's stats, trucks were the mode that moved the great majority of the month's transborder freight at $68.2 billion of value, with rail coming in a distant second place at $14.5 billion. The balance of the freight was moved via vessel ($8.2 billion), pipeline ($6.3 billion), and air ($5.0 billion).

In the trucking category, the northern and southern borders supported roughly equal amounts of freight, with $30.0 billion moving across the U.S.-Canada line and $38.2 billion across the U.S.-Mexico line. More specifically, the three busiest truck border ports, supporting a combined 45.6% of total transborder truck freight, were: Laredo, Texas, $15.6 billion; Detroit, Michigan, $9.4 billion; and El Paso, Texas, $6.1 billion.

Inside those cross-border trucks was chiefly the following loads: computers and parts worth $13.3 billion, electrical machinery worth $11.6 billion, and motor vehicles and parts worth $10.1 billion.

Digging into the rail numbers, the results were about the same, with the total of $14.5 billion in value balanced between $7.9 billion on the Canadian border and $6.6 billion on the Mexican border. The three busiest rail border ports, handling a sum total of 53.9% of the month's total transborder rail freight, were: Laredo, Texas, $3.7 billion; Detroit, Michigan, $2.1 billion; and Port Huron, Michigan, $2.0 billion.

And inside the month's rail cars were three commodities that totaled 61.9% of total transborder rail freight: motor vehicles and parts ($7.1 billion), mineral fuels ($1.1 billion), and computers and parts ($0.7 billion).

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