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U.S. Cross-Border Freight Value Inches Higher, Trucking’s Share Falls

February 23, 2017

By Evan Lockridge

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U.S.-NAFTA freight value percent change from previous year over the last 24 months. Graphic: U.S. DOT
U.S.-NAFTA freight value percent change from previous year over the last 24 months. Graphic: U.S. DOT

The value of freight moved between the U.S. and its border neighbors increased in December for the third time in five months following a string of declines, according to new figures released Thursday by the Transportation Department.

U.S.-North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) freight totaled $87.1 billion as three out of five major transportation modes carried more freight by value with partners Canada and Mexico in December 2016 compared to a year earlier.

The 0.4% rise followed a 3.3% November jump while trucking’s share of the overall cross-border freight picture fell in December.

For all of 2016 the value of NAFTA freight flows fell 3.4% from 2015, down substantially from the 7.2% decline in 2015 from 2014.

The value of commodities moving by pipeline in December compared to a year earlier increased 30.9%, vessel by 2%, and rail by 0.9%. Air decreased by 1.4%, and truck by 2%. The large percentage increase in the value of goods moving by pipeline was mainly due to a 40% jump in the year-over-year price of crude oil.

Trucks carried 61.9% of U.S.-NAFTA freight and continued to be the most heavily utilized mode for moving goods to and from both U.S.-NAFTA partners. Trucks accounted for $27.4 billion of the $46.8 billion of imports, or 58.6%, and $26.4 billion of the $40.3 billion of exports, or 65.6%.

Rail remained the second largest mode by value, moving 15.2% of all U.S.-NAFTA freight.

U.S.-Canada Freight Value Drops

The value of U.S.-Canada freight flows in December decreased from a year ago by 1.2% to $44.5 billion as the value of freight on three modes fell. The value of freight carried on truck declined by 2.1%, rail by 5.4%, and vessel by 20.8%. The value of commodities moved by pipeline increased by 28.7%, reflecting the increased value of mineral fuels year-over-year, while air increased by 1.1%.

Trucking imports from Canada declined 1.3% in December from a year ago while exports to the country moved 2.8% lower

During this 12-month period, much of the mineral fuel freight between Texas and Canada shifted from vessel to pipeline as the value of mineral fuel shipments carried by vessel between Texas and Canada decreased while the value of pipeline shipments rose, according to the Transportation Department. Texas-Canada mineral fuel trade made up about 13.9% of all U.S.-Canada mineral fuel shipments in December 2016.

In December 2016, the top commodity category transported between the U.S. and Canada by all modes was vehicles and parts, of which $4.4 billion, or 57.6%, moved by truck and $3 billion, or 39.9%, moved by rail.

Trucks carried 56.7% of the value of the freight to and from Canada. Rail carried 15.2% followed by pipeline, 11%; air, 5%; and vessel, 3.6%. The surface transportation modes of truck, rail and pipeline carried 82.9% of the value of total U.S.-Canada freight flows.

U.S.-Mexico Freight Edges Higher

From December 2015 to December 2016, the value of U.S.-Mexico freight flows increased by 2.1% to $42.6 billion as the value of freight on three out of five major modes increased from a year earlier. The value of commodities moved by pipeline increased by 66.1%, vessel by 14.9%, and rail by 8.4%. Truck decreased by 1.9%, and air by 5.2%.

Trucking imports from Mexico declined 2.8% in December while exports were 0.8% lower.

Trucks carried 67.2% of the value of the freight to and from Mexico. Rail carried 15.2% of the value of freight to and from Mexico followed by vessel, 9.6%; air, 3.4%; and pipeline, 0.9%. The surface transportation modes of truck, rail and pipeline carried 83.3% of the value of total U.S.-Mexico freight flows.

The top commodity category transported between the U.S. and Mexico by all modes in December 2016 was electrical machinery, of which $7.2 billion, or 90.8%, moved by truck.

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