Report Shows More than 10 Percent of U.S Freight Trade Is International

Report Shows More than 10 Percent of U.S Freight Trade Is International

More than 10% of the 16 billion tons of freight moved on the nation’s transportation system is international cargo, either entering the country as imports or intended for export, according to BTS’ International Trade and Freight Transportation Trends, released in April. Almost 71% of the international freight tonnage in 2001 was from imports – up from 65% in 1997 – and the remaining 29% from exports.

This report is third in a series of international trend reports. BTS released North American Trade and Travel Trends in 2001 and U.S. International Travel and Transportation Trends in 2002.

The report also shows that maritime shipping – which generally hauls bulk, low-value goods – carried the largest percentage of U.S. international trade in 2001: 78% by tonnage and 38% by value. Aviation is used for high-value and perishable cargo, carrying 28% of the total value but less than 1% of the total tonnage of U.S. international trade. Trucking carried 21% in 2001 by value.

While all modes were affected by the September 11 attacks, the 13% drop in 2001 in the value of air freight activity was the largest decrease of all modes, followed by trucking at 8%, maritime at 3%, and rail at 2%.

Other highlights from the report:

  • More than 19 million large freight containers were used to transport imports across U.S. borders in 2001– 6 million by ocean vessels and 13 million by truck and rail from Canada and Mexico – showing the challenge of maintaining transportation security while facilitating efficient freight flows.

The United States, has run a large deficit in trade of transportation-related goods in recent years because of growth in the import of automobiles and parts, particularly from Japan. The transportation-related goods deficit was more than $75 billion in 2001, with a $24 billion surplus in aircraft, spacecraft and parts trade and smaller surpluses in other transportation sectors offset by a $100 billion deficit in automotive vehicles and parts.

  • The United States, the world leader in trade of transportation services, saw its annual surplus in this trade turn into a deficit in 1998 and the following three years as U.S. imports carried by foreign carriers increased and U.S exports growth slowed due to the robust growth in the U.S. economy and the strength of the dollar during this period.
  • The ratio of the value of United States imports and exports to Gross Domestic Product increased to 22% in 2001, up from 13% 11 years earlier. This trend highlights the increasing role of international trade in the U.S. economy.

This multimodal report presents a comprehensive analysis of trends and issues affecting U.S. international trade and freight transportation. It examines recent trends in U.S. trade patterns with key trade partners, reviews changes in modal shares, commodity mix, and transportation services. The report also discusses the emerging transportation security challenges resulting from increased international trade flows.