Business Monday

South Florida trade in the time of Ebola, ISIS, revolution and repression


This whole Ebola thing got me to thinking about how South Florida trades with countries that are in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Countries like Liberia and Burkina Faso in Africa but also Syria and Iran in the Middle East, Myanmar in Asia, and Venezuela and Cuba in our backyard. I was surprised how many times Miami International Airport, PortMiami or Port Everglades appeared near the top in rank among U.S. ports for these nations.

Let’s start with Liberia, which is ground zero for Ebola.

Liberia’s trade with the United States fell to $203.83 million through the first nine months of 2014, according to WorldCity analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data released last week. That’s 3.35 percent below its total trade during the same period last year, through September.

But, get this: Trade between Liberia and Port Miami has increased 208 percent when compared to the same nine months of 2013. Port Miami now ranks No.20 for U.S. trade with Liberia. But, if this makes you a little jumpy, despair not: 100 percent of that trade is exports to Liberia.

There are 20 distinct export categories in the $688,006 total, with $100,000 in parts for machinery the top PortMiami export. Also on the list are tubes and pipes, books, bandages, prefabricated buildings, glues and adhesives, hand tools, a motor vehicle or two, and some paint and varnish.

Nearby is Burkina-Faso, which has escaped any issues with Ebola, unlike other neighbors Sierra Leone and Guinea. But late last month and earlier this month, it experienced significant protests that led to the departure of its leader and a quick succession of military leaders.

Because the trade data is released about 30 days after the end of the month, the abdication will not reveal itself in Census data until later this year and into next year.

But through September, Burkina’s trade with the United States rose to $61.35 million, a 2.41 percent increase over the same time period last year.

As it turns out, Miami International Airport ranks No.5 in the nation for trade with the West African nation — with trade increasing 467 percent to $3.7 million. While MIA has a trade surplus with Burkina, it is relatively balanced.

On the export side, $1.01 million was in aircraft or aircraft parts with another $823,206 in mechanical appliances used to dispense liquids. On the import side, there is only one import: gold, valued at $1.52 million. Gold has been an important import into South Florida since the global recession and it has become a hub for this trade on both the import and export side. The 2014 gold shipments represent MIA’s first import of any type from Burkina-Faso in more than a decade.

Let’s head to the Middle East and Syria, where the situation has gone from horrible to worse. It has gone from massive revolt against a repressive and brutal leader willing to use chemical weapons on his own people to the rise of ISIS, which is posting videos of the beheadings of journalists, including a former Miami resident, on the Internet and slaughtering citizens of Iraq and Syria.

Syria’s trade with the United States is off 33.04 percent from last year, to $14.59 million.

Despite that, trade with Port Everglades has increased 181 percent this year to $821,936, and the Broward County seaport now ranks No.6 nationally for U.S. trade with Syria. It is all imports; there have been no exports this year. All of the imports have been in the category of stone monuments or similar artwork, with the vast majority classified as coming from a calcareous stone, such as travertine or marble.

Then there’s Iran, which has been a thorn in the side of the United States and much of the world for the better part of four decades but which is showing some signs of a desire for rapprochement with the West.

Iran’s trade with the United States has tumbled 43.36 percent this year, when compared to the first nine months of 2013, to $131.95million.

And yet, running against this current is Port Everglades, where trade with Iran in 2014 is up 287 percent. Exports have increased $3.73 million to $5.04 million. Port Everglades now ranks No.8 in the nation for U.S. trade with Iran. There are two exports worth more than $2million each, rutin and its derivatives, which are likely being used in medicine, and miscellaneous food preparations.

Let’s move over to Asia.

How about Myanmar, a repressive regime that President Obama will visit for a second time this month? The first visit was to herald some progress in a ratcheting down of its oppression of political opponents, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Now, the Buddhist majority is striking out against Muslims in the western part of the country, holding thousands in internment camps.

Myanmar trade with the United States fell to $130.4 million through the first nine months of 2014. That’s 3.89 percent below the same time period last year.

Despite the U.S. drop, over at PortMiami trade is up 3,793 percent. Although, as is the case with many of these nations, South Florida’s trade is relatively light, Port Miami ranks No.24 for U.S. trade with Myanmar. Trade has increased to $556,627, increasing $542,330, with exports and imports moderately balanced.

On the export side, $173,560 of the $253,723 total is motor vehicles. This is not a top overall export from South Florida but a growing one, though largely to the far-less exotic — geographically anyway — Caribbean. On the import side, of the $302,904 total, $269,195 is frozen shrimp, the first imports from there ever. New York City, by contrast, imported $5.87million in frozen shrimp from Myanmar through September.

And now, we return to this hemisphere, to Venezuela and Cuba. I will skip Venezuela, since I have covered its trade in a previous column.

U.S.-Cuba trade, which is limited to a few U.S. types of exports and restricted financing under terms of the long-standing U.S. trade embargo, fell to $243.16 million so far this year, down 17.68 percent.

What is interesting is that the No.1 port of exit for U.S. exports to Cuba for the last decade, the Port of New Orleans, will likely finish third in 2014 behind new No.1 Port of Brunswick, Georgia, and frequent No.2 Port Everglades.

Port Everglades’ primary export to Cuba is frozen chicken, and it has sent more frozen chicken to Cuba than any other port for years, except 2013 when Pascagoula, Mississippi, ranked No.1. The Port of Brunswick, best known for motor-vehicle imports and, increasingly, exports, is shipping soybean oilcake to Cuba, but no poultry. Soybean oilcake, or soybean meal, is generally used to fatten animals inexpensively. New Orleans has seen its exports of soybean oilcake, corn and soybeans essentially evaporate.

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

U.S. trade with countries ‘in the news’ for wrong reasons

Change in rank

Overall U.S. rank

Total U.S. trade with the world

September 2014 YTD

1-year change

1-year change

10-year change

10-year change

$ 2,957,917,908,658

$ 96,634,719,930


$ 1,282,901,971,117





$ 31,786,891,115

$ (2,146,306,534.00)


$ 10,368,460,694





$ 243,160,231

$ (53,432,739.00)


$ (79,283,258.)





$ 203,829,156

$ (7,037,705.00)


$ 98,452,421.





$ 131,953,570

$ (101,895,482.00)


$ (48,387,964.)





$ 130,396,356

$ (5,870,218.00)


$ 121,749,777




Burkina Faso

$ 61,350,843

$ 1,944,039.00


$ 44,150,683





$ 14,586,984

$ (7,191,115.00)


$ (318,422,776)