May’s cross-border freight hit record high increase set in April

July 22, 2021

Tyson Fisher


Cross-border freight in May broke the year-to-year record for largest gain set just the previous month, but fell short of March’s all-time high in freight value.

Compared to May 2020, cross-border freight propelled by nearly 94% after an 85% increase in April and a 16% increase in March, 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. Conversely, last May North American freight dropped by nearly 49%. That was the largest annual decrease on record.

The value of freight hauled across national borders increased slightly by just more than 1% compared with April, when cross-border freight went down by more than 6% compared with the previous month. In the past 20 years, cross-border freight generally increases in May compared to the previous month. Not counting 2020 during the pandemic, May freight experienced a monthly decrease only four times since 2001, including two recession years.

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

Compared to April, trucking cross-border freight was the only mode that experienced a decline in May.

Trucks carried nearly $68 billion of the nearly $109 billion of imports and exports in May, a 0.6% decrease from April. However, truck freight compared to a year ago jumped up by nearly 74%.

Month-to-month, Canada truck freight increased by more than 3%, whereas Mexico truck freight went down by more than 3%. Top truck commodities were electrical machinery (equipment and parts), computer-related machinery/parts, vehicles (other than railway), measuring/testing instruments and plastic/articles.

May’s cross-border freight total of nearly $109 billion is up by more than $1 billion from the previous month, and it increased by nearly $53 billion from May 2020. March set a new record high for North American freight by value at nearly $115 billion, indicating a return to a pre-pandemic economy.

All modes except trucking experienced a month-to-month increase. Airfreight experienced the largest increase at more than 9%, followed by pipeline (6%) and vessel (6%).

About 57% of U.S.-Canada March cross-border freight was moved by trucks, followed by rail at nearly 16%. Of the more than $54 billion of freight moving in and out of Mexico, trucks carried more than 68% of the loads. LL