You are here

BTS Examines U.S./China Freight Trade

BTS Examines U.S./China Freight Trade

Growth in the trade of goods between the United States and China over the last two decades has affected the U.S. transportation system in many ways, among them a notable increase in traffic at air cargo hubs and seaports. The highway and rail infrastructure that supports the movement of cargo to and from these facilities has also been affected. A recent special report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), U.S. – China Trade Growth and America's Transportation System, narrates the dramatic nature of that growth and its transportation system impact through a new examination of data and trends. The report goes beyond statistics on volume and value growth to tell a larger story about some of the geographic shifts and logistical strategies being employed to help traded goods fl ow smoothly to their end markets.

U.s.-China Trade, 1989-2006

Growth in the trade of goods between the United States and China over the last two decades has affected the U.S. transportation system in many ways, among them a notable increase in traffic at air cargo hubs and seaports. The highway and rail infrastructure that supports the movement of cargo to and from these facilities has also been affected.

A recent special report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), U.S. – China Trade Growth and America's Transportation System, narrates the dramatic nature of that growth and its transportation system impact through a new examination of data and trends. The report goes beyond statistics on volume and value growth to tell a larger story about some of the geographic shifts and logistical strategies being employed to help traded goods flow smoothly to their end markets.

In particular, growing air trade with China in the southwest and Great Lakes regions of the United States and the increase in water trade at west coast ports have put an even greater demand on the transportation infrastructure serving these areas. The addition of work shifts at busy sea ports, the use of variable highway tolls to manage freight traffic, shifting trade flows among entry and exit points, and changing domestic trade routes can all be at least partly attributed to the marked increase in U.S.-China trade.

That same trade growth has had a significant impact on U.S. ports outside the Pacific region. Increasing congestion at west coast ports is leading to a shift in U.S.- China trade routes. More Chinese imports are entering the United States at ports in the Southeast as trade routes through the Panama and Suez canals become more competitive, and significant infrastructure changes promise to affect trade routes as well. For example, the current widening of the Panama Canal will allow larger vessels to navigate the canal than those currently using it, effectively doubling the Canal's capacity and likely facilitating a shift in trade-related traffic from congested west coast ports to less crowded ones in the Southeast.

To see the full report on this topic and other recent Special Reports from BTS, visit http://www.bts.gov/publications/bts_special_report.

Table 1: Top 10 Commodities Traded Between the United States and China in 2006 Compared to 1998 Trade in Those Commodities

($ millions)

Excel | CSV

Commodity 1998 total trade 2006 total trade Percent change
Electrical machinery 14,522 75,083 417%
Boilers and other mechanical appliances 10,335 69,970 577%
Toys, games and sports equipment 10,604 20,943 98%
Furniture and lamps 3,993 19,483 388%
Footwear 8,038 13,948 74%
Clothing, not knitted or crocheted 3,814 11,868 211%
Plastics 2,519 10,180 304%
Iron and steel 1,197 8,763 632%
Clothing, knitted or crocheted 1,862 8,020 331%
Assorted instruments 2,906 7,728 166%

SOURCE: U.S. Exports of Merchandise and U.S. Imports of Merchandise DVDs, U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Commerce, Suitland, MD, 1999-2007.

U.S. Imports & Exports of Merchandise DVDs and FT 920 U.S. Merchandise Trade: Selected Highlights, U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Commerce, Suitland, MD, 1990-2007.