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Amid Trade Angst, NAFTA Freight Flows Soften

Amid the political confrontation over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and U.S. attempts to renegotiate it with partners Canada and Mexico, freight crossing the borders showed some erosion.

The value of monthly freight flows between the U.S. and its NAFTA partners totaled $102.7 billion in April, down 3 percent from March, but up 12.8% from a year earlier, according to Department of Transportation (DOT) statistics. The value of U.S. trade with Canada fell 3.2% from March to $52.2 billion, but was up 10.9% from a year earlier. U.S. trade with Mexico was valued at $50.5 billion in April, down 2.7% from the previous month, but still 14.8% ahead of a year earlier.

Freight moved by truck, the most-used mode of transportation, increased 15.3% to $65.7 million worth of goods in the recently released DOT report for April. U.S.-Mexico truck freight was up 20.1% to $35.9 billion, while U.S.-Canada shipments rose 10 percent to $29.8 billion.

The top three truck commodities, accounting for more than half of the freight, were computers and parts, motor vehicles and parts, and electrical machinery.

Motor vehicles are a sticking point in U.S. talks with Mexico and Canada, with President Trump decrying that Mexico has taken away too many auto-manufacturing jobs from the U.S. as a result of the trade pact. New tariffs have been circulating among the trade trio, with the U.S. levying tariffs against metal imports from both Mexico and Canada, and each responding with their own tariffs on U.S. goods. The tariffs started as part of Trump’s actions to remedy what he claims are unfair treatment in trade from most of the U.S.’s top commercial markets.

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Rail freight, the second-most used mode of transportation, was down 1.5% in April year over year, with $14.7 billion in freight moved, according to DOT. U.S.-Canada rail freight increased 6.1% to $8.8 billion, as U.S.-Mexico rail shipment declined 11 percent to $5.9 billion. The top three rail commodities, accounting for 58.2% total North American rail freight, were motor vehicles and parts, plastics and computers and parts.

The freight increases are generally in line with U.S. imports of apparel and textiles from the North American trading partners. NAFTA imports of apparel and textiles were up 5.6% year to date through April to $1.94 billion worth of goods, according to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel. Canada’s shipments in the first four months of the year grew 15.6% to $393.1 million, while imports from Mexico rose 3.49% to $1.5 billion.

Imports from Mexico rose 8 percent in April to $375.73 million worth of goods, compared to March. Industry imports from Canada increased 25 percent to $118.37 million in value compared over the same period.

U.S. exports of apparel and textiles to Mexico increased 11.1% to $1.93 million for the year through April. Industry exports to Canada rose 2.03% to $1.69 million for the period.