A little less cotton leaving the docks and fewer T-shirts coming back in. A decrease in donated pharmaceuticals, a drop in cellphone and computer exports. A hit to trade with Venezuela, a bigger hit to trade with Brazil and even bigger hits to trade with Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
All of those are important factors in PortMiami’s 2014. Despite these, overall trade fell a relatively slight 2.46 percent to $23.97 billion.
The decline was slight because of decent gains in trade with top trade partner China, No. 4 El Salvador and No. 10 Costa Rica. The decline was slight because of gains in exports of motor vehicles, computers and computer parts. And it was a good year for imports of shrimp and other crustaceans as well as fish fillets.
PortMiami ended the year ranked No. 40 among the nation’s roughly 450 airports, seaports and border crossings, down two from 2013, when it had ranked No. 38, according to WorldCity analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data released last month.
Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale ranked No. 34. Miami International Airport, which like the two seaports is part of the South Florida Customs district, ranked No. 17. Its cargo tends to be higher-value, lightweight goods more typical of air cargo.
PortMiami, Port Everglades and MIA are the three primary workhorses of the South Florida Customs district, but it also includes the Port of Palm Beach, which caters primarily to shallow-draft ports in the Caribbean, and Fort Lauderdale International Airport, which is important to the Brazilian jet-manufacturer Embraer. Overall, South Florida ranked No. 12 among the nation’s roughly four dozen Customs districts in 2014.
I wrote about the 2014 performance of Port Everglades and Miami International Airport in the two previous weekly columns and about the overall Customs district the week before.
For PortMiami, exports totaled $10.74 billion, down 4.87 percent from the 2013 total, and imports were valued at $13.22 billion, down a sliver, 0.46 percent. On both the export and the import side, those are the lowest totals since 2010.
The biggest decrease on the export side was to the No. 2-ranked category, donated items, which fell $124.08 million from the 2013 record of $486.34 million. That’s a one-year decrease of 25.51 percent and a big factor in the overall export decline. It had been PortMiami’s top export in 2013. Interestingly enough, the 2014 total is, despite the large decline, the third highest on record.
Most donated exports were pharmaceuticals — and they dropped from a record $315.78 million in 2013 to $238.12 million. Most of those pharmaceuticals were bound for Haiti. The 2014 total to Haiti was, despite the decline, the second largest on record.
Among leading exports, No. 8-ranked cell phones also fell, down $61.70 million. The previous year, cellphones had ranked No. 5 among PortMiami exports. Cotton, critical to the diminished apparel industry in the Caribbean Basin and PortMiami’s third most valuable export, fell 14.76 percent. Overshadowed by the big decreases, six of PortMiami’s top 10 exports increased in value in 2014. The biggest increase was a $66.34 million increase in computer parts.
The import side, similarly, had some large swings but a more stable overall result. While overall imports fell a negligible 0.46 percent, four of the top 10 either fell or increased more than 20 percent when compared to the previous year.
T-shirts, the leading import, and men’s or boys’ suits, ranked No. 7, both fell more than one-fifth while No. 5 live crustaceans and No. 10 fish fillets gained more than 20 percent. The former points to continuing pressure from China and other Asian apparel manufacturers while the latter points to continuing desire on the part of Americas to consume more fish and seafood.
The South Florida Customs district leads the nation in both the imports of T-shirts and fish fillets, with the former largely being manufactured in Honduras and the latter generally being farmed in Chile.
T-shirt imports have, over recent years, been shifting to Asia, meaning they have been increasingly entering the United States through the Port of Los Angeles. South Florida retained the top spot for these imports in 2014, though barely.
Turning the prism and looking at PortMiami’s trade by trade partners, only one top 15 trade partner set a record for trade in 2014, Costa Rica. In so doing, it entered the top 10. Three countries fell from record trade in 2013, No. 5 Colombia, with trade down a slight 1.99 percent; No. 7 Haiti, down 5.38 percent; and No. 9 Brazil, with trade down a significant 16.06 percent.
Among the top 15 trade partners, only Venezuela’s trade fell at a greater rate than Brazil’s, down 22.14 percent.
Looking at the big picture, only two of PortMiami’s top 10 trade partners are outside the Caribbean Basin — the Caribbean Islands, Central America and the northern coast of South America: No. 1 China and No. 9 Brazil. Going to the top 15, you have France and the Netherlands representing Europe.
Why does that matter?
PortMiami made a big bet on an upswing in Asian trade over the course of the next decade as the expansion of the Panama Canal, the deepening of the port’s channel to 50 feet — sufficient draft to handle larger, fully laden container ships that would run aground at the current depth, and the benefits of the completed tunnel connecting the port to Interstate 395 take hold.
(In 2914, China’s trade with PortMiami increased $142.50 million to $3.71 billion, narrowly missing the 2012 record of $3.72 billion. It has been the port’s top trade partner for at least a decade.)
The recently ended work slowdown at the West Coast ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland, which led to difficult delays for the nation’s retailers and others, only adds to the allure of alternative entry points for Asian goods into the United States.
It was, in fact, the 2001 stoppage at the Southern California ports that led Canadians, Mexicans and Panamanians to push forward with other solutions for Asian imports, with Canadians expanding Prince Rupert, Mexicans pushing forward with improvements to the Port of Lazaro Cardenas and Panamanians taking on the first expansion in the 100-plus year history of the canal.
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. He can be reached at email@example.com.
PortMiami’s trade with the world in 2014
SOURCE: WORLDCITTY ANALYSIS OF U.S. CENSUS DATA