International Freight Gateways

International Trade  |  Trade with Canada and Mexico

International Trade

Transportation facilities that move international trade into and out of the United States reveal the importance of all modes and intermodal combinations to global connectivity.

Top U.S.-international freight gateways by value of shipments

Transportation facilities that move international trade into and out of the United states reveal the importance of all modes and intermodal combinations to global connectivity. In 2020,  JFK International Airport was the leading U.S.-international freight gateway, moving $215.5 billion in cargo. 

Value of U.S.-international merchandise trade by coasts and border

Foreign trade has had a major impact on all U.S. borders and coasts. An increase in trade with China has resulted in a large share of trade moving through Pacific coast ports, and the newly expanded Panama Canal allows larger vessels to transit between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Since 2003, the value of merchandise trade increased by 31 percent in inflation adjusted terms. Ports and airports on the Atlantic coast continued to account for the largest share in terms of trade value. In 2020, they accounted for 44.0 percent of the total $2.7 trillion in trade (2009 dollars).

U.S.-international freight trade by transportation mode

Water is the leading transportation mode for U.S.-international freight trade. Ships moved 41.1 percent of the value (over $1.8 trillion) and 68.5 percent of the weight (1.6 billion tons) in 2021.  Air freight, which accounted for 0.4 percent by weight, was the second largest mover of goods by value (29.6 percent), accounting for $1.4 trillion. Truck moved 11.0 percent of total freight tonnage and 16.5 percent of total value.  Together, rail and pipeline accounted for about 5.6 percent of the total value and 19.4 percent of the total weight of U.S.-international freight trade.

Value of U.S.-international freight flows by region and transportation mode

Water is the leading transportation mode for U.S.-international freight trade. In 2020 vessels moved $1.5 trillion in freight to and from the United States, followed by air at $1.2 trillion. Trucking was the primary mover from and to Canada and Mexico, followed by rail. 

Domestic transportation mode of exports and imports by tonnage and value

International trade has grown considerably, and the movement of these goods within the United States is placing pressure on the domestic transportation network and on all modes. Trucks are the most common mode used to move imports and exports between international gateways and inland locations. This trend is expected to continue with tonnage of U.S.-international trade forecast to grow at a rate of about 1.7 percent per year between 2022 and 2050.

Top trading partners of the U.S. in merchandise trade

For the first time, Mexico is the United States’ top trade partner, followed by Canada and China. Mexico’s share of trade with the United States grew by 80.5 percent, from $303 to $547 billion between 2000 and 2019, while China’s share more than doubled from 6.0 to 13.5 percent, and its total value of freight grew from $148 to $497 billion over the same period. Two notable changes in the ranking of U.S. trade partners include Vietnam’s jump from 68 to 13, and India’s climb from 25 to 9 between 2000 and 2019.

International Trade  |  Trade with Canada and Mexico

Trade with Canada and Mexico

Value and tonnage of U.S. freight trade with Canada and Mexico by transportation mode

The value of freight shipped to and from our North American neighbors, Canada and Mexico, has grown by 62.8 percent since 2000.  Trucks were the most heavily utilized mode, carrying 65.3 percent of the value and 19.8 percent of the tonnage traded with these countries in 2020.  Every mode carried less U.S. freight by value with Canada and Mexico in 2020 than in 2019.

Value of U.S. exports to and imports from Canada and Mexico by land transportation mode

Truck and rail transport most of the U.S. bidirectional freight with Canada and Mexico. Goods carried by truck were largely responsible for the 163.3 percent increase in the value of freight from Mexico between 2000 and 2020. While trade via pipeline with these two countries increased markedly, it comprised a relatively small share of total trade value.

Number of incoming trucks, trains, and loaded containers crossing the U.S-Mexico and U.S-Canada borders

A large number of trucks and trains carry goods from Mexico and Canada to the United States. In 2020, approximately 6.4 million trucks hauled nearly 4.2 million loaded containers into the United States from Mexico, representing a doubling in the number of loaded containers entering the United States from Mexico in 2000.  In contrast, the number of incoming trucks and loaded containers on trucks from Canada declined by 26.0 and 40.3 percent, respectively, while incoming loaded rail containers increased by 43.8 percent over the same period.

Recommended citation
U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Freight Facts and Figures (Washington, DC: 2019).

Freight Facts and Figures, developed by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, is a collection of charts and statistical tables about freight transportation in the United States. These interactive visualizations and tables provide a snapshot of freight movement; the extent, condition, and performance of the freight transportation system; the economic implications of freight movement; and the safety, energy, and environmental impacts of freight transportation.

More from Freight Facts & Figures