With all the talk of the North American Free Trade Agreement‘s impact on the U.S. economy on the campaign trail, the latest freight data from the U.S. Department of Transportation could point to it being overstated.
All five major transportation modes — truck, rail, pipeline, vessel and air — carried less U.S. freight with NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico by value in 2015 than in 2014.
The total value of cross-border freight carried on all modes fell 7.2 percent from 2014 to $1.1 trillion in current dollars, according to DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
The value of commodities moving by truck declined 0.4 percent, the smallest decrease from 2014 to 2015 of any mode. The value of freight on other modes also declined — air freight fell 1.8 percent, rail was down 7.1 percent, ocean vessel decreased 29.7 percent and pipeline fell 39.4 percent. A drop in the price of crude oil in 2015 played a key role in the large declines in the dollar value of goods shipped by sea vessel and pipeline.
The 7.2 percent decline in the value cross-border freight from 2014 to 2015 was almost entirely due to the decline in crude oil and petroleum prices. The value of petroleum-related commodity shipments declined almost 40 percent year-over-year, while the value of other freight dropped 0.9 percent. In 2015, petroleum-related commodities comprised 10.8 percent of the total value of U.S. North American freight, down from 16.6 percent in 2014.
Trucks carried 64.3 percent of U.S.-NAFTA freight, a 2.2 percentage point increase from 2005, and continued to be the most heavily utilized mode for moving goods to and from both U.S.-NAFTA partners. Trucks accounted for $359.8 billion, or 61 percent, of the $589.9 billion of imports, and for $351.9 billion, or 68.2 percent of the $516.4 billion of exports.
Rail remained the second largest mode, moving 14.9 percent of all U.S.-NAFTA freight, followed by ocean vessel at 6.6 percent, pipeline at 5.2 percent and air at 3.9 percent. The surface transportation modes of truck, rail and pipeline carried 84.4 percent of the total value of U.S.-NAFTA freight flows.
During the last decade, rail’s percentage share rose 0.2 points, while pipeline fell 1.4 points.
From 2014 to 2015, the value of U.S.-Mexico freight fell 0.6 percent to $531.1 billion. Trucks carried 70.9 percent of the value of the freight to and from Mexico, followed by rail at 14.1 percent, ocean vessel with 8.5 percent, air at 3.1 percent and pipeline with 0.7 percent. The surface transportation modes of truck, rail and pipeline carried 85.7 percent of the value of total U.S.-Mexico freight flows.
Trucks carried 70.9 percent of U.S.-Mexico freight in 2015, a 3.5 percent increase from 2005. Truck’s share of imports increased 6.3 percentage points from 2005, while ocean vessel’s percentage share fell 10.5 points.
The top commodity transported between the U.S. and Mexico in 2015 was electrical machinery at $103.8 billion, an increase of 7.5 percent from 2014, with $95.4 billion, or 91.9 percent, moved by trucks. The next highest commodity category transported by a single mode in U.S.-Mexico freight was vehicles and vehicle parts, with $41.7 billion in freight moved by rail.
Although apparel and textiles did not rank in the top commodities, they are a significant sector in two-way trade between the U.S. and Mexico. The U.S. exported $6.5 billion of apparel and textiles to Mexico last year, of which $4 billion was fabric and $1.2 billion apparel parts. There was $665 million of textiles and yarn, according to data from the American Apparel & Footwear Association. In turn, Mexico sent $4.5 billion to the U.S., about $3.5 billion of which was apparel and $1 billion worth of textiles.
From 2014 to 2015, the value of U.S.-Canada freight flows fell 12.6 percent to $575.2 billion. Trucks carried 58.3 percent of the value of the freight to and from Canada, followed by rail at 15.7 percent, pipeline with 9.3 percent, ocean vessel at 4.9 percent and air with 4.7 percent. The surface transportation modes of truck, rail and pipeline carried 83.3 percent of the value of total U.S.-Canada freight flows.
Trucks carried 58.3 percent of U.S.-Canada freight in 2015, a 0.8 percentage point decrease from 2005. Truck’s share of imports decreased 0.2 percentage points from 2005, while air’s percent share of imports rose 0.7 points and pipeline fell 1 point.
The top commodity category transported between the U.S. and Canada in 2015 was vehicles and vehicle parts at $103.0 billion with $61.8 billion, or 60 percent, moved by truck.