Here’s how bad it is:
First, after an unprecedented three consecutive years of falling trade, this year South Florida’s trade with the world is down 10.6 percent, according to data released last week.
Second, four of the five candidates left running for president currently say they oppose the largest U.S. trade agreement on record, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Third, there’s us. Public support for free trade is ebbing, with the percentage of Americans who support free-trade agreements having dropped from 58 percent two years ago to 51 percent today, according to a recent Pew Research study.
This despite the fact that we rely on imports for some of our food ($919.94 million in shrimp and other shellfish), a good bit of our medicine ($10.66 billion), almost all of our clothing ($2.17 billion in women’s and girl’s skirts and dresses), essentially all of our communications ($13.61 billion in cell phones), some of our shelter ($4.54 billion in furniture), almost all our home entertainment ($3.03 billion in TVs and monitors) and transportation ($25.92 billion in motor vehicles).
By the way, these numbers are all through February, the most recent U.S. Census data available, so multiply by six to get a sense of the annual impact.
I mention the political mood and the sense of the American public only to provide context as I write about South Florida’s trade with the world.
So far this year, South Florida trade is down $1.89 billion, with double-digit losses with No. 1 Brazil (19.38 percent), No. 2 Colombia (13.62 percent), No. 7 Peru (17.46) and No. 13 Venezuela (33.15 percent).
South Florida trade is at its lowest level since Feb. 2010
Brazil and Colombia have both experienced significant currency devaluations, with the former in the midst of a massive political and economic crisis to boot, while Venezuela remains somewhere between a basket case and a humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by tumbling oil prices.
In large part because of those currency devaluations, South Florida’ exports have fallen 13.49 percent when compared to last year. That accounts for $1.34 billion of the $1.89 billion in total losses when compared to the same two months of 2015.
Eight of the top 15 exports are down more than 10 percent. Add to that the top export, civilian aircraft, engines and parts, is down 9.88 percent and computer chips, the No. 7 export, another 8.94 percent. Gold, the only one of those eight exports suffering double-digit losses that is a commodity affected by price swings, is off 48.98 percent.
Cell phones, the No. 2 export and a true measure of the health of Latin America’s economies, since South Florida leads the nation in these exports, are off 19.48 percent. Computers — here South Florida also leads the nation in exports — are down 28.36 percent. A little more alarmingly, even exports of medicine, are getting clobbered, down 29.98 percent.
Exports are at their lowest level through the first two months of a year since 2010.
The import picture is a little less glum, relatively speaking. Nevertheless, imports into South Florida airports and seaports are down 6.97 percent this year. That’s $549.87 million. Although the top six imports are all down more than 10 percent, at least two tell a slightly different story.
No. 1 gold is down 11.07 percent — and subject to price and demand swings often tied to perceptions about the global economy. Refined petroleum, down from No. 2 to No. 5, is also tied more to global market pricing than demand. The No. 3-ranked import, a category that captures exports returned for modification or repair, is down 21.41 percent.
Cell phones, which jumped from No. 4 to No. 2 as a South Florida import, are nevertheless down 11.22 percent. Aircraft fell 17.49 percent, down two positions to rank No. 4. No. 10 yachts are down 49.33 percent. Although the export picture is more difficult, there’s plenty of despair on the import side as well.
The two-month import total is the lowest since the same two months of 2011.
With exports down more than imports, South Florida’s long-stranding trade surplus is down to $1.25 billion, its lowest level since February of 2006.
Drilling down from the Customs district level to the port level, PortMiami, Port Everglades and Miami International Airport are experiencing the trade decline differently.
Miami International Airport’s exports are down from a record high of $6.86 billion in February of 2012 to $4.82 billion this year, almost a 30 percent decline. Port Everglades’ export trade is down also, but only from a record high of $2.12 billion in 2013 to $1.92 in 2016, slightly less than 10 percent. PortMiami’s exports have fallen from a $1.82 in 2011 to just under $1.50 billion this year. That’s a drop of 17.58 percent.
Broadening the view, while overall U.S. trade is falling, South Florida is faring worse. U.S. trade is down 4.27 percent. If U.S. trade continues to trail 2015 totals, it would make 2016 the second consecutive year of a trade decline, which has not happened in at least two decades and probably much longer.
South Florida is one of three top 15 Customs districts with trade off more than 10 percent. The other two — Houston and New Orleans — are big in oil and gas. Because South Florida’s trade is off 10.6 percent, it has fallen two positions from its 2015 rank at this time, to No. 13, now trailing San Francisco and El Paso.
Trade for two Customs districts is up more than 10 percent, Los Angeles, which is dominated by imports from China, and El Paso, which is dominated by trade with Mexico that tilts toward imports. Los Angeles, which generally trails New York City in trade at this time of year, is already No. 1, its trade having risen 12.03 percent when compared to the same two months of 2015. El Paso’s trade is up more strongly, at 20.22 percent.
Reach Ken Roberts, president of WorldCity, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @tradenumbers.
South Florida’s top trade partners
Chge. in rank
Source: WorldCity analysis of U.S. Census data