There are about 475 airports, seaports and border crossings where cellphone exports can leave the United States but no “port” ranks above Miami International Airport.
MIA has ranked No. 1 for at least a decade, and this year that standing is receiving a boost from a nontraditional, non-Latin American market, according to WorldCity’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data through July, the most current available.
The cellphone category, which is dominated by cell phones but includes some parts and landline equipment, is a particularly important one for South Florida, ranking No.2 in 2013 with a value of $5.62billion.
In fact, South Florida leads the nation in a parade of high-tech exports, including computers, printers and the combined category of cameras and camcorders. It is second in computer part exports, albeit a distant one to El Paso, Texas. All five of these exports are generally among South Florida’s top 10 exports, by value.
Because MIA is such an important launching pad for so many technology exports, many of the world’s leading distributors of technology have Latin American headquarters in Miami, including Santa Ana, California-based Ingram Micro, No. 69 on the Fortune 500; Clearwater-based Tech Data, No. 111 on the Fortune 500; and Phoenix-based Avnet, No. 117 on the Fortune 500.
In addition, the area west of MIA — what was once called Airport West before Doral’s incorporation — is the turf of home-grown stars Intcomex and Brightstar, which largely focus on cellphones, as well as a plethora of smaller high-tech distributors working from strip shopping centers and warehouses.
Of the larger manufacturers, Apple, Research in Motion (Blackberry) and Samsung have South Florida offices. Nokia had its Latin America headquarters here but left South Florida for Sao Paulo a couple of years ago.
The primary markets for MIA’s cellphone exports are, of course, in Latin American — from Brazil and its “export suburb” Paraguay to Colombia, Peru, Chile and Costa Rica. The top two, Brazil and Colombia, accounted for 34.54 percent of all exports from MIA through the first seven months. Brazil accounted for $502.47 million of the $2.75billion total and Colombia $448.05million.
Paraguay, a small country that abuts Brazil, is a leading destination for a wide variety of Miami exports, but the general presumption is that many of these find their way to Brazil, an apparently successful effort to circumvent high import duties and tariffs.
Paraguay is the third-leading destination for MIA cellphone exports, ahead of the much larger markets of Peru, Chile, Costa Rica and Argentina. While it’s safe to assume some percentage of the cellphones leaving MIA bound for Paraguay stay there, if you add its 10.48 percent of all MIA cellphone exports to the Brazil total, and the “top two” account for 45.02 percent.
While MIA leads the nation in cellphone exports, somewhat surprisingly it is not the major player in any of the nation’s leading export markets. In fact, Brazil accounted for but 3.41 percent of all cellphone exports from the United States through the first seven months of 2014. Colombia accounted for 2.61 percent and Paraguay 1.61 percent.
The leading market for U.S. cell phone exports? Mexico, although the percentage has slipped from 21.54 percent through the first seven months of 2010 to 14.16 percent today. Until this year, the United States’ other NAFTA partner, Canada, had been No.2. Its market share has been fairly consistent, though it is down slightly to 10.75 percent.
The new No. 2 market for U.S. cellphone exports is, interestingly enough, Hong Kong.
China, in 2013, supplied the United States with more than 60 percent of all cellphones, consolidating its grip on the market. At the same time, U.S. exports to Hong Kong have risen from $1.39billion through July of 2013 to $2.45billion this year. (Yes, cellphones exported from the United States are largely the same phones imported from China and elsewhere. Value is often added, for example, in foreign trade zones in Miami, before they are shipped out as U.S. exports.)
Hong Kong, which as noted in a previous column, has become a leading market for gold exports from MIA, is now the airport’s fourth most important market for cellphone exports. Just four years ago, cellphones bound from MIA to Hong Kong totaled $22.35million through the first seven months of the year. So far in 2014, the total is $216.09 million, more than nine times as much. Hong Kong is the nontraditional market helping keep MIA atop the national ranking.
Looking at it the other way, MIA ranks as the fifth most important port for cell phone exports to Hong Kong, behind new No.1 Anchorage, which has seen a one-year increase from $68.90million to $651.75million. For MIA and its growth, think only of the oft-repeated line from the movie Field of Dreams, “Build it and they will come.” Asian all-cargo carriers Cathay Pacific and China Airlines both now fly from MIA, and have been adding flights.
MIA’s growth in cellphone exports over the last five years has exceeded the national average, up 92.71 percent compared to the U.S. average of 73.02 percent. MIA is one of eight “ports” with more than $1billion in exports through the first seven months of the year — all are airports except for the World Trade Bridge in Laredo, Texas. (Cellphones don’t generally move on ships because they are light-weight as well as relatively expensive.)
Growing faster than MIA over the last five years have been No.2-ranked JFK International, where exports are up 159.80 percent, more than twice the national average, and No.6-ranked New Orleans, where exports have risen 191.99 percent since 2009, at almost three times the U.S. growth rate. Neither of these two markets threatens MIA’ s traditional Latin America markets.
With MIA’s top markets, outside of Hong Kong, there isn’t much competition. With Brazil, MIA accounts for 78.37 percent of all cellphones exported there. With Colombia, it’s even higher, at 91.35 percent.
And Paraguay? It’s 95.32 percent flying out of MIA.
Miami International Airport exports of cellphones by country
July 2014 YTD
Change in rank
July 2014 YTD
Total MIA exports
United Arab Emirates
SOURCE: WORLDCITY ANALYSIS OF U.S. CENSUS BUREAU DATA