Business

South Florida trade numbers fall for fourth straight year

The Mol Majesty, the first Neo-Panamax ship to arrive at PortMiami after transiting the expanded Panama Canal, was in port on July 9, 2016. Both imports and exports handled by the port last year were down.
The Mol Majesty, the first Neo-Panamax ship to arrive at PortMiami after transiting the expanded Panama Canal, was in port on July 9, 2016. Both imports and exports handled by the port last year were down. Miami Herald

For the fourth year in a row the value of the Miami Customs District’s trade with the world dropped, falling 2.2 percent from $106.85 billion in 2015 to last year’s $104.5 billion.

Trade through Miami International Airport was up last year but PortMiami and Port Everglades showed dips in total trade, according to an analysis of the newly released U.S. Census Bureau numbers by WorldCity, a Coral Gables media and data research company. MIA and the two ports are the region’s three biggest players in international trade.

The analysis showed exports handled by the district, which includes airports and seaports stretching from Palm Beach County to Key West, decreased 4.23 percent last year, while imports were up .23 percent. The district’s trade surplus in 2016 was $7.76 billion.

Shifting commodity prices played a big role in the performance of the airport and seaports, said Ken Roberts, president of WorldCity, during a breakfast presentation of the trade numbers at the Hyatt Hotel Coral Gables.

“Port Everglades depends on the prices of gas and oil,” he said. Lower prices meant that the value of Port Everglades’ imports of gasoline and other fuels fell 61.4 percent to $875.4 million last year. Total exports from Port Everglades fell 11.6 percent to $11.7 billion while total imports dropped 12.8 percent to $10.4 billion.

Miami is a center for the gold trade, and both imports and exports of the precious metal grew.

But higher gold prices helped MIA both coming and going. Miami is a center for the gold trade, and both imports and exports of the precious metal grew. Gold was MIA’s top import commodity last year, with the value of gold imports increasing 7.54 percent to $4.55 billion. Gold exports were up 3.6 percent to $1.8 billion.

Another winner for MIA were imports of plasma, vaccines and blood, which increased 191 percent to $1.4 billion.

Overall, exports handled at MIA increased .03 percent to $32.8 billion, and imports increased 22.4 percent to $26.2 billion.

Even though both Port Everglades and PortMiami handle similar numbers of containers, Roberts said, the drop-off in the value of trade was more pronounced at Port Everglades because of fuel prices. The value of exports handled by PortMiami fell by 7.8 percent to $9.5 billion and imports were off 3.47 percent to $14.5 billion.

Despite the challenges in 2016, Romaine Seguin, president of UPS’ Americas Region, said, “I think we’re going to have a good 2017. I am optimistic.”

But President Donald Trump’s displeasure with the North American Free Trade Agreement and his desire to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border has raised concerns. Seguin said trade must continue between the United States and Mexico.

Trump has said he wants to reopen NAFTA negotiations because of trade imbalances with Mexico and the loss of jobs.

But Jerry Haar, a professor of management and international business at Florida International University, said that 88 percent of U.S. jobs lost since NAFTA went into effect resulted from automation.

Even in Mexico, he said, manufacturing robots are starting to displace workers. In the future, he said, “One group of robots will be competing against another set of robots.” But Haar said he believes the United States has the technological advantage.

Haar said despite a contraction of half of 1 percent in the economies of the Americas in 2016, he sees a slight recovery coming this year.

Growth markets in 2017, he said, will be Panama, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

The worst market will be Venezuela, he said. “I would call it a failed state,” Haar said. Although he said Ecuador has longer term potential, he said, it is “temporarily doing poorly.”

Brazil was still the top trading partner for the district last year, but that trade grew a mere .15 percent, reflecting the economic downturn in South America’s largest economy. Colombia was the No. 2 trading partner, followed by China, the Dominican Republic and Chile.

There is continued instability and unrest in Brazil, but Seguin said, “I think the bottom has been hit.” Still, she said, “There are too many other countries in the region that I’m more bullish on.”

Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi

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