After Sharp Fall, NAFTA Surface Trade Rises

U.S. trade with Canada and Mexico by truck and rail rose 10.5 percent in December, the first year-over-year increase since the global financial crisis struck in September 2008.

However, that surface transportation trade was still 13.1 percent lower than in December 2007, indicating just how deep a hole the recession punched in cross-border business.

U.S. surface trade with its NAFTA partners plummeted 23.3 percent in 2009 to $636.7 billion, the Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics said.

That's 20.1 percent lower than the $797.3 million total for 2007 and the lowest total since 2004, when total surface trade with Mexico and Canada was worth $633.6 million.

On a sequential monthly basis, the value of freight carried across border by train or truck began to climb in July, and increased every month through October, when it hit $61.4 billion. It dipped in November and again slightly in December to $58.5 billion.

The most dramatic year-over-year improvement occurred at the southern border, where U.S.-Mexico surface trade jumped 15 percent from December 2008 to $23 billion.

The value of imports carried into the U.S. by truck was 15.5 percent higher year over year, while the value of exports shipped to Mexico climbed 10.4 percent.

Total trade by truck dropped 4.3 percent from November, but at $18.2 billion was 11.7 percent higher than in December 2008. U.S.-Mexican rail traffic rose 1 percent from November and 18.6 percent from the prior year to $3.8 billion.

On the northern border, U.S.-Canada surface transportation trade rose 7.8 percent year-over-year to $35.4 billion. U.S. exports increased 11.2 percent in value, while the value of goods imported from Canada dropped 2.3 percent.

Total trade by truck at the Canadian border increased 5 percent year-over-year to $21.6 billion, but fell 3.2 percent from November. At $5.9 billion, cross-border rail shipments increased 2.4 percent from November and 13.4 percent from December 2008.

- William B. Cassidy, The Journal of Commerce.