Box 6-1 - Domestic Transportation of International Trade

Box 6-1 - Domestic Transportation of International Trade

Legislation and the Department of Transportation’s strategic plan have increased the already considerable interest by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) in the domestic transportation of international trade. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) directs BTS to provide information on “transportation-related variables that influence global competitiveness” and specifically to conduct a study of the use of domestic highways to move international trade. In addition, economic growth and trade, of which international trade is a major component, is one of the strategic goals of the Department.

These developments require progress in solving the longstanding problem of accurate, high-quality data in the area of international transportation and trade. One of the key issues is obtaining accurate geographic data. The transportation community is concerned with physical geography; that is, does the international shipment enter the territorial limits of the United States and the U.S. transportation system? The trade community is interested in economic geography; that is, does the international shipment enter the U.S. economy? Both transportation and trade communities want to know the states in which the exports originate and the states to which imports are destined. Because of data definitions and collection procedures used by the Census Bureau and the U.S. Customs Service, transportation-related data are not always accurately reported. As an example, some U.S. import shipments arriving from Canada by truck are reported as entering the United States at Dallas, Texas.

BTS recognizes the need to take a comprehensive, multimodal approach to collection, analysis, and dissemination of international trade data. This is because the data problem affects all forms of transportation. For example, the top three gateways between the United States and the rest of the world by value in 1997 were the Port of Long Beach, the highway and rail crossings at Detroit, and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Each of these facilities handled over $80 billion in goods. Understanding the domestic links between gateways and the heartland is vital to supporting America’s role in the global economy.

One notable development in the multimodal approach to international transportation and trade data was the transfer of the international waterborne statistics program on October 1, 1998 from the Census Bureau to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. BTS intends to become more active in enhancing coverage and increasing the quality of the statistics by bringing together data from the Customs Service, the Census Bureau, and the federal transportation agencies, as well as from our North American partners.

BTS has been working with our North American partners to compile consistent and comparable transportation data across the three countries. For example, the Bureau established a Standard Classification of Transported Goods with the Census Bureau and Statistics Canada to describe and classify commodities in ways that are more useful to the transportation community. BTS is currently working with the transportation and statistical agencies of Canada and Mexico on a North American Transportation Statistics Project, which will include the release of a statistical publication that will provide a continental picture of transportation and reveal differences in data definitions and comparability. Annual meetings of the transportation and statistics agencies of all three countries, through the framework of the North American Transportation Statistics Interchange, promote information exchange and partnership opportunities for the resolution of common problems.