My company, WorldCity, recently hosted an event focused on the relationship between Latin America and China, and what role, if any, Miami has in that burgeoning relationship. And it got me to thinking: How important is China as a trade partner with South Florida's top trade partners?
Answer: Very important.
The impact? Hard to say.
The optimist says that it’s not a zero-sum game and that, as Latin America continues to grow and prosper, as its middle class grows, Miami's role as a “shopping cart” for the region will grow along with it.
In addition, more Latin Americans will come here to expand their businesses into the rest of the United States, using South Florida as a springboard in much the same way that the European and American businesses — more than 1,300 of them, according to our “Who’s Here” research — have done in venturing into South America, Central America and the Caribbean.
The pessimist? It is, in fact, a zero-sum game and as China gains sway in Latin America and the Caribbean, the United States — and by extension, South Florida — will lose influence.
To give you a sense of things: South Florida’s top 10 trade partners are all in the hemisphere — except one, China.
Here's what the data says about China's influence, strictly from an import-export point of view:
Brazil is South Florida's long-standing and dominant No. 1 trade partner, with 2014 trade down 0.51 percent through September. South Florida is the leading U.S. Customs district for trade with Brazil, which ranks No. 9 among all U.S. trade partners. Brazil-U.S. trade is up 0.83 percent this year, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by WorldCity.
But the United States is not Brazil's top trade partner. China is. That is based on annual data from 2012, the most recent available from the United Nations and other sources. China accounts for 17 percent of all Brazil exports, a sponge as it is for all raw materials and commodities the world over. The United States accounts for 11 percent. On the import side, China accounts for 15 percent while the United States accounts for 14 percent.
Colombia is South Florida's second most important trade partner, with trade down 3.98 percent through September. South Florida is second to Houston as the most important gateway for U.S. trade, and U.S. trade with the Andean nation is down 5.88 percent this year. Colombia is the nation's No. 22-ranked Customs district.
The United States is Colombia's top export market, accounting for 35 percent of the total exported from the Andean nation, according to its latest annual data, also from 2012. China accounts for a mere 5.3 percent but ranks second nonetheless. On the import side, the United States ranks No. 1 as well, with 25 percent. Here, the Asian manufacturing behemoth is more important, with 17 percent.
South Florida's No. 3-ranked trade partner is China, and trade this year is up 0.35 percent. South Florida ranks No. 14 among U.S. Customs districts for trade with China, with Los Angeles accounting for almost 40 percent of the total and everyone else largely reduced to scraps. China is the nation's second most important trade partner, trailing only Canada. U.S. trade with China this year is up 5.48 percent.
China's top export destination? The United States, of course, accounting for 19 percent of the total. On the import side — products sent to China — the United States fares less well. China's imports come from Japan, at 10 percent, South Korea at 9.3 percent, and then the United States, at 8 percent. That 8 percent is not insignificant, of course, and China is a leading buyer of any number of U.S. products, from jets to cotton to soybeans.
South Florida's fourth most important trade partner this year is Costa Rica. Trade with the Central American nation is down almost 27 percent this year, largely due to a tremendous decline in computer chip imports after Intel relocated manufacturing to Malaysia. Despite the decline, South Florida remains the No. 1 Customs district for U.S. trade with Costa Rica. Costa Rica's trade with the United States overall is down a less steep 8.03 percent this year, and it ranks No. 35 among all nations.
The United States buys 39 percent of all Costa Rican exports, with the Netherlands (11 percent) and Mexico (8.9 percent) ranking ahead of China, at 5 percent. These are 2012 annual figures for Costa Rica, the most recent available, and the steep decline in U.S. imports from Costa Rica does not figure in these totals.
On the import side — imports into Costa Rica — the United States accounts for a truly dominant 51 percent of the total, with China in second place at 7.8 percent.
Ranking No. 5 among South Florida trade partners is the Dominican Republic, and trade with the Caribbean nation is up 1.20 percent so far this year. Nationwide, it is up 8.65 percent, and the Dominican Republic ranks No. 43 among U.S. trade partners. South Florida ranks No. 1 among Customs districts, with almost four times as much trade as No. 2 San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The Dominican Republic sends 51 percent of its exports to the United States, with 11 percent going to Haiti and 4.7 percent to China.
On the import side, the United States accounts for 37 percent of the imports sent to the island with China ranking No. 2 at 14 percent.
South Florida's sixth most important trade partner this year — and the fifth most important in the hemisphere — is Chile. Trade between the two is down 0.27 percent this year, with South Florida the leading gateway for U.S.-Chilean trade. Chile ranks as the United States' No. 29-ranked trade partner, and its U.S. trade is down 7.54 percent.
Chile sends more exports to China than any other nation, at 23 percent of all exports, with the United States second at 12 percent. Chile is a large commodity producer, including copper.
On the import side, the United States ranks No. 1, with 23 percent, followed by China at 18 percent.
All in all, it’s pretty clear from the stats, from No. 1 Brazil to No. 6 Chile: China is a player in Southern Hemispheric trade. Only time will tell what it means for South Florida. As for me, I'm an optimist. Increased prosperity in Latin America and the Caribbean will continue to find its way to us here in South Florida.
Ken Roberts is the founder and president of WorldCity, a Coral Gables-based company that pays attention to the impact of globalization on local communities. More import-export trade data is available at www.ustradenumbers.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top South Florida trade partners
Source: WorldCity analysis of U.S. Census data