September cross-border freight closer to pre-pandemic levels

November 20, 2020

Tyson Fisher


Month-to-month increases in September’s cross-border freight continued a streak that began in August, with the yearly decrease being the smallest since the pandemic put North American freight to a grinding halt.

Compared to September 2019, cross-border freight was down 5% after an 11% decrease in both August and July, 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 back to pre-pandemic levels.

The value of freight hauled across national borders increased by more than 3% compared with August, when cross-border freight went up by nearly 3% 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.

Valued at more than $96 billion, the last time September North American freight was valued lower was as recently as 2017 when it was valued at $94 billion. In May, the value was about $56 billion, the lowest since the 2009 recession.

September cross-border freight marks the fourth consecutive monthly increase.

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.

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

Trucks carried more than $63 billion of the more than $96 billion of cross-border imports and exports in September, a 4% increase from August, but a decrease of less than 1% compared with September 2019.

Month-to-month, Canada truck freight increased by 2%, whereas Mexico truck freight went up by 6%. Top truck commodities were computers and parts, motor vehicles and parts, electrical machinery, plastics, and measuring/testing instruments.

September cross-border freight totaled more than $96 billion, up nearly $3 billion from the previous month but a decrease of $5 billion from September 2019.

Despite the overall monthly increase, only two of five modes experienced an increase, with trucks leading the way. Vessel freight was the only other mode to have an increase in cross-border freight at 2.7%. All other modes experienced a decrease of less than 1%, letting truck and vessel freight move the average into the black.

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