Trade through the Miami Customs District grew at a record pace for the first four months of the year, although commerce with some traditional trading partners, such as Argentina, Venezuela, Honduras and Guatemala, has fallen off.
The Miami district, which includes South Florida airports and seaports from Palm Beach to Key West, also broke into the top 10 ranks of customs districts nationwide, said Ken Roberts, president of WorldCity, a Coral Gables media and data research company.
He spoke during an event this week on the future of trade in South Florida that was presented by WorldCity, the Doral Business Council and the Florida Custom Brokers & Forwarders Association.
Miami currently ranks 10th among customs districts for the dollar value of international trade it handles, just edging out San Francisco. For the past decade, Miami’s trade has ranked somewhere between 11th and 14th, said Roberts, who released WorldCity’s 2012 Miami Trade Numbers report at the event held at the InterContinental at Doral hotel.
Total trade for the district reached $38.88 billion during the first four months of 2012.
Last year, two-way trade through the Miami Customs District reached a record $112.82 billion, up more than 18 percent from the previous year. It was the first time the district cracked the $100 billion mark.
But despite positive trade trends so far this year, there are a few troubled markets where governance issues, import restrictions and violence have eroded commerce.
Trade with Venezuela, the district’s No. 4 trading partner, was off by $47.2 million in the first four months of the year; Argentine trade was down $119.6 million and trade with Honduras declined by $134.5 million. Two-way trade with Guatemala was $66.5 million lower than during the first four months of 2011.
Miami has a lot going when it comes to international trade — it leads the nation in the export of cellphones, computer parts and printers and cotton yarn, for example, and is the nation’s import leader for perishable goods such as cut flowers and produce — but it needs to stay on its toes to retain its advantages, Roberts said.
Houston, for example, has become the top gateway for trade with a number of Latin American nations that traditionally have been South Florida’s leading markets. Houston has replaced South Florida as the top U.S. gateway for trade with Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Chile and Argentina.
“The pace of change is accelerating rapidly,’’ Roberts said.
That’s especially true for Intcomex, a billion-dollar distributor of computer equipment, mobile devices, software and consumer electronics in more than 40 countries.
“I can’t survive with a lot of inventory. I have to be very fast and very efficient,” said Leopoldo Coronado, the chief operating officer of Doral-based Intcomex.
“Computers aren’t tomatoes, but they rot too. After three or four months, they’re old,” said Coronado, who spoke at the trade event.
The Miami area is a great location to export to Latin America and the Caribbean, he said, but it needs to continue to find new ways to export and do business.
Rather than just being a trading center that mostly handles goods made elsewhere, this region needs to manufacture more of the products it sells, panelists said.
“South Florida needs entrepreneurs that make the products they sell,’’ said Luis Arguello, chairman and chief executive of DemeTech, a Miami Lakes company that exports surgical sutures. “When I go around the country, they say ‘All you do in Florida is oranges and coconuts,’ but there is a manufacturing base in Florida,’’ Arguello said.