Fleet Management

Lower Oil Prices Push Down Cross-Border Freight

February 26, 2016

By Evan Lockridge

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Percent change in value of U.S.-NAFTA freight flows by mode: December 2014 - 2015. Graphic: U.S. DOT
Percent change in value of U.S.-NAFTA freight flows by mode: December 2014 - 2015. Graphic: U.S. DOT

Large declines in the value of oil and other petroleum-related products during 2015 was reflected in a lower value of cross-border freight movements between the U.S. and its neighbors, according to new Transportation Department figures. The data shows the value of freight flows fell 7.2% in 2015 compared to a year earlier.

That follows a 4.5% improvement in 2014 from 2013.

This happened as the value of freight moved between the U.S. with Canada and Mexico via truck, rail, air, vessel and pipeline fell 9.5% in December from a year earlier, the third largest year-over-year drop of 2015.

In December, compared to a year earlier, the value of commodities moving by truck decreased by 3.1% while the value of air freight decreased by 3.5% and rail by 9.3%. Vessel freight and pipeline freight fell by 29.9% and 47.4%, respectively.

Trucks carried 63.4% of so-called U.S.-NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) freight and continued to be the most heavily used mode for moving goods to and from both U.S.-NAFTA partners. Trucks accounted for $28 billion of the $46.8 billion of imports, or 60%, and $26.9 billion of the $40 billion of exports, or 67.3%.

The value of U.S.-Canada freight totaled $45 billion in December 2015, down 15.2% from a year earlier.

Trucks moved 57.3% of the $45 billion of freight to and from Canada, followed by rail at 15.9%. The top commodity category transported between the U.S. and Canada by all modes was vehicles and parts, of which $4.9 billion, or 56.7%, moved by truck

U.S.-Mexico freight flows totaled $41.7 billion in December 2015, down 2.4% from December 2014, as air and trucks carried more U.S.-Mexico freight value than in December 2014. Freight carried by truck increased by 1.3%, led by shipments of electrical machinery, which were up 7.4%. 

Trucks moved 70% of the $41.7 billion of the value of freight transported to and from Mexico, followed by rail at 14.3%.

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