Cross-border freight in April sets record high year-to-year increase

June 28, 2021

Tyson Fisher


After setting a record high in March, cross-border freight went down in April, but experienced the biggest year-to-year gain on record.

Compared to April 2020, cross-border freight skyrocketed by nearly 85% after a 16% increase in March and a 0.1% decrease in February, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. This marks the largest year-to-year increase by percentage since the U.S. Department of Transportation began compiling numbers in 1993. Last April was the first month that the COVID-19 pandemic affected North American freight, dropping by more than 44%. That was the second largest annual decrease on record, to be surpassed only by May 2020.

The value of freight hauled across national borders decreased by more than 6% compared with March, when cross-border freight went up by nearly 20% compared with the previous month. April’s monthly decrease is the largest since last April. Not counting the pandemic, the largest monthly drop was a 7.5% decrease in November 2019. Historically, cross-border freight typically goes down month-to-month in April, which it has done every year since 2009 with the exception of a 3% increase in 2013.

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

Like nearly every other mode, trucking cross-border freight in April was down.

Trucks carried more than $68 billion of the more than $107 billion of imports and exports in April, a 7.5% decrease from March. However, truck freight compared to a year ago jumped up by 77.5%.

Month-to-month, Canada truck freight decreased by 10%, whereas Mexico truck freight went down by nearly 6%. Top truck commodities were electrical machinery (equipment and parts), computer-related machinery/parts, vehicles (other than railway), measuring/testing instruments and plastic/articles.

April’s cross-border freight total of more than $107 billion is down by more than $7 billion from the previous month, but increased by more than $49 billion from April 2020. March set a new record high for North American freight by value, indicating a return to a pre-pandemic economy.

All modes except vessel experienced a month-to-month decrease. Pipeline freight suffered the largest decrease at nearly 12%, followed by airfreight (9%) and trucking. Vessel freight experienced the only increase at more than 12%.

About 57% of U.S.-Canada March cross-border freight was moved by trucks, followed by rail at 16%. Of the nearly $55 billion of freight moving in and out of Mexico, trucks carried 70% of the loads. LL

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.