March’s US-NAFTA trade suggests room for growth around oil and gas


The US Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics has released freight figures for US-NAFTA trade in March 2014. This latest set of figures keeps up the general trend of trade growth in the region with the headline figure showing that the region’s trade in March was worth $101.5bn, representing 6.2% year-on-year growth. On a country to country level, considered in terms of US dollar value, exports from the US to Canada rose by 4.4%, while exports to Mexico increased by 10.7%. On the import side the US bought 4% more from Canada than it did in March 2013 and 7.4% more from Mexico.

The strengthening US economy is helping to drive growth forward and the figures suggest that the growth of fracking, and its extraction of increasing quantities of oil and other mineral fuels, is beginning to cause a degree of change to North American logistics. While this development appears likely to have a significant impact on the region’s international freight industry in the future, for the time being the shape of the region’s logistics looks very much the same as ever it has, though the return to growth and a sense of sustained industry health is very welcome.

Of what change there has been the most dramatic can be found in the northern trade between the US and Canada, change that is largely the result of fracking. The huge increase in the production of oil and other mineral fuels by this means has seen vessel trade from the US to Canada increase by 105.3% since March 2013 and pipeline trade record a similarly large increase of 95.5%. Overall the region saw trade by pipeline increase by 25.2% while vessel freight increased by 9.9%. The region’s air freight volumes rose by 6.7% while trucking achieved an increase of 6.3%. The only real loser was rail, which declined by 5.2% compared to March 2013. However, rail remained the second largest mode of freight transport in the region, still accounting for 14.8% of all US-NAFTA trade. In fact, though there were huge rises in the value of vessel and pipeline trade between the US and Canada the overall picture remains fairly constant. After all, the figures show that road transport still makes up 60.1% of US-NAFTA trade.

The trade flows between the US and Mexico make a considerable contribution to this picture of continuity in North American Logistics, albeit amid a developing trade landscape. Although pipeline trade from the US to Mexico increased by 25.7% it remained less than 1% of the total trade flow between the two countries, the impact of such a rise on the industry as a whole is negligible. The top commodity transported between these two countries was electrical machinery, flows of these goods held a total value of $7.19bn for March 2014, dwarfing mineral fuels’ paltry value of $426. Such trade flows have not necessitated any real change in the nature of transport across the border between US and Mexico. In fact the 8.8% increase in trade experienced between the two countries has been facilitated almost exclusively by trucking companies.

During March intra-NAFTA trade recorded another month of solid growth. NAFTA trade since March 2013 has seen significant change with oil and mineral fuels becoming increasingly important and leading international trade flows to alter. However, such change is still in its infancy and, although growth rates in this sector are particularly high, the overall picture of North American international logistics remains very much the same. Indeed this picture seems unlikely to change very much at all in the coming years, from the rise of fracking we can expect pipelines and oil tankers to increase in scale and add an altogether new section to the region’s logistics. As for the present, these latest figures show a region returning back to health.

For more information on US-NAFTA trade please visit the imports and exports charts on the Ti Dashboard.

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