The maritime Port of Houston was the nation’s fourth busiest waterborne freight gateway for international trade by value of shipments in 2003. It ranked eleventh overall among all land, water, and air gateways with nearly $50 billion of international freight moving through it. This amount of trade represents about 6 percent of the value of U.S. international waterborne freight shipments and 3 percent of the total value of U.S. international merchandise trade by all modes of transportation.
By weight, the facility is ranked first among all U.S. water gateways. In 2003, the port handled a total of 126 million tons of freight or 10 percent of all U.S. international waterborne tonnage. Houston primarily handles noncontainerized bulk products, which typically are heavy, high-volume products, such as ore, grain, or oil, as compared to specialized products transported via containers. This explains why the Port of Houston ranks first by weight.
There were 4,900 vessel calls made to the Port of Houston in 2003, of which 54 percent were tanker ships, and 15 percent were container ships. The port handled a total of 0.9 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units).
Of the 126 million tons shipped through the Port of Houston, 71 percent were inbound shipments valued at $28 billion (about $317 per ton) while the exports, accounting for 29 percent of tonnage, were valued at $21 billion (about $591 per ton). This highlights the higher value per ton of merchandise exported as compared to imported through this port.
Mexico was the top trading partner for inbound and outbound shipments at the gateway, accounting for 34 million short tons. The top-five origin countries for imports and top-five destination countries for exports accounted for 47 percent of all tonnage moving through the Port of Houston. The Port of Cayo Arcas, Mexico is the largest origin point for imports while the Port of Tuxpan, Mexico is the major destination for exports followed by Antwerp, Belgium.
Between 1999 and 2003, the value of goods moving through the Port of Houston increased by over 47 percent—29 percent for exports and 65 percent for imports. During the same period, the tonnage of international merchandise trade through the port increased by 25 percent.
The major commodities imported through this gateway include petroleum and petroleum products, crude fertilizers and minerals, organic chemicals; and iron and steel. The major commodities exported through this port include petroleum and petroleum products; organic chemicals, cereals, and cereal products; and plastics.1
1 Commodities information available at http://www.portofhouston.com/busdev/tradestatistics.html as of Nov. 16, 2004