Cross-border freight drops for first time since May

January 28, 2021

Tyson Fisher


November ended a five-month streak in cross-border freight increases, while at the same time experiencing the lowest year-to-year decrease since the pandemic disrupted the economy in March.

Compared to November 2019, cross-border freight was down 3.2% after a 4.7% decrease in October and a 4.9% decline in September, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That marks the lowest year-to-year decrease since North American freight began to drastically decrease in March, bringing numbers closer to pre-pandemic levels.

The value of freight hauled across national borders decreased by more than 6% compared with October, when cross-border freight went up by nearly 6% compared with the previous month. April’s monthly drop of 41% is the largest on record. However, June’s 46% increase is among the highest on record.

November’s monthly decrease is the first since May when North American freight fell by 3.5%. Historically, November is a slower month for cross-border freight, with decreases in the past several years with the exception of a modest increase of 0.1% in 2017. Decreases in past years have been mostly larger, generally around the 7-8% range.

In 2019, cross-border freight decreased by 0.8% compared to the previous year, with 63% of that freight carried by trucks.

This year’s historic decrease in April and May sets 2020 cross-border freight behind compared to this time last year.

November cross-border freight map (trucks)
Truck cross-border freight value by state compared to October. Blue states denote an increase, while orange states denote a decrease. (Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics)

Trucks carried nearly $63 billion of the nearly $96 billion of cross-border imports and exports in November, a 7.5% decrease from October, but an increase of less than 1% compared with November 2019.

Month-to-month, Canada truck freight decreased by 5%, whereas Mexico truck freight went down by 9%. Top truck commodities were computers and parts, motor vehicles and parts, electrical machinery, plastics, and measuring/testing instruments.

November’s cross-border freight total of nearly $96 billion is down more than $6 billion from the previous month and dropped more than $3 billion from November 2019.

All modes except pipeline freight experienced a decrease, with truck freight suffering the biggest loss. Vessel freight was close behind at nearly 7%, followed by a 5.5% decrease in airfreight. Pipeline freight was up 3%.

Nearly 59% of U.S.-Canada November cross-border freight was moved by trucks, followed by rail at nearly 16%. Of the more than $49 billion of freight moving in and out of Mexico, trucks carried 72% of the loads. LL