global trade

The year 2020 was like no other for global trade. Even when news of the coronavirus outbreak in China began to be picked up on U.S. airwaves, few could have imagined quite how far-reaching and devastating the pandemic’s impact would become. And we are still feeling the effects both in public health and economic terms today.

This certainly adds an extra dynamic to the latest list of top exporting cities in the USA. Despite the economic standstill caused by lockdowns and restrictions on movement of goods and people, there are a handful of cities that actually managed to increase their year-on-year value of goods exported in 2020–take Corpus Christi and Portland, both able to sneak into the top 10 as a result.

They join the usual suspects such as Houston, New York and Los Angeles, which despite suffering substantial losses in global trade because of the pandemic still comfortably make the top three.

Indeed, 2020 was still a big year for the 392 metropolitan areas of the United States, which in total exported $1.3 trillion in goods. Although this is a $194 billion drop on 2019, almost one-in-four metro areas grew their export trade, demonstrating a healthy sign of resilience as the U.S. economy seeks to bounce back from a difficult period.

Read on to find out which other cities complete the list of America’s most valuable exporting hubs, which is comprised using metropolitan area export trading data from the International Trade Administration.

1 – Houston, TX 

Total value of goods exported in 2020: $104.538 billion

The Houston metropolitan area was by far the largest exporter last year, amassing well over $100 billion of goods sales to markets abroad. Almost $18 billion of this went to Mexico, with Canada, Brazil, China and Japan the other key destinations. Oil and gas, chemicals and petroleum and coal products dominate Houston’s exports, between them accounting for around 80% of export revenue. Whether by land, air or sea, Houston offers an impressive array of logistical and distribution channels to move goods to other countries around the world, including the No. 1 foreign trading port in the United States. Its location, which is equidistant from East and West coasts, also provides strategic advantages.

2 – New York, NY

Total value of goods exported in 2020: $75.745 billion

Although exporting activity dropped by more than 13% in value last year due to the pandemic, New York is still comfortably the second biggest generator of global trade in the country. Canada is comfortably its largest trading partner, with more than $11.6 billion of exports heading across the border in 2020. Other key export destinations for New York include Switzerland, Mexico, Hong Kong and China. In terms of sectors, chemicals, metals, computer and electronics, and transportation equipment represent the most prolific in terms of goods exported. The New York Governor’s Office also recently unveiled the state’s 2021 infrastructure plan, a $306 billion program which will help to fuel export growth in future years.

3 – Los Angeles, CA

Total value of goods exported in 2020: $50.185 billion

Los Angeles, thanks to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, is home to the largest seaports complex in the western hemisphere. It is therefore no surprise that the city ranks highly as a top center for global trade: In 2020, just more than $50 billion of goods were exported, representing a steep decline of nearly 18% on 2019. However, despite being badly hit by the pandemic, Los Angeles still sent several billions of dollars’ worth of goods to Mexico, Canada, Japan, China and Germany, which make up its top five export markets. Computer and electronics goods are the city’s biggest export, with just over $10 billion in international sales in 2020.

4 – Chicago, IL

Total value of goods exported in 2020: $41.279 billion

The Windy City ranks fourth in the USA for global trade, with exports of more than $41 billion in 2020. Unlike many other major U.S. cities, Chicago was relatively shielded from the pandemic impact in terms of exports, only suffering a 2.7% drop on 2019 levels. Canada and Mexico are its largest exporting destinations, followed by China, Germany and Japan, with chemicals being the most valuable export sector ($7.596 billion). Chicago’s other key exporting industries include computer and electronics, transportation equipment, machinery and agricultural products. Its central location also makes it a strategic hub for business, reflected by the fact that a quarter of all American freight traffic passes through the city.

5 – Dallas, TX

Total value of goods exported in 2020: $35.642 billion

Dallas was less protected against the economic standstill created by the COVID-19 pandemic, suffering a 9.7% drop in export businesses during the course of 2020. However, the city still managed to export the fifth most goods in terms of value last year. Around half of this income came from the transportation equipment and computer and electronics sectors, with U.S. neighbors Canada and Mexico once again representing the top two exporting destinations. Dallas is in an extremely well-connected part of the country, with Texas being the top state for rail miles and public roads and also home to formidable port and airport facilities.

6 – New Orleans, LA

Total value of goods exported in 2020: $31.088 billion

New Orleans is one of America’s most important cities when it comes to the global trade of agricultural products. Last year, more than $15.7 billion of export income was derived from this busy sector, with other significant contributions coming from petroleum and coal products, processed foods, oil and gas, and chemicals. Unlike many of its fellow heavyweight exporting cities, New Orleans’ primary exporting destination is China by some considerable distance, with $7.864 billion of goods being sent there in 2020. Mexico is a distant second, registering $2.9 billion in imported goods from the city. Japan, the Netherlands and Colombia make up the rest of New Orleans’ top five export markets.

7 – Detroit, MI

Total value of goods exported in 2020: $30.715 billion

Detroit is another city where a specific exports sector dominates. In this case, it is transportation equipment, which accounted for over half ($16.686 billion) of all exporting value in 2020. Among the key transportation goods produced and exported from Detroit are spark ignition engine trucks weighing over five tons, large and mid-sized cars, as well as parts and accessories. The city’s exports took a huge hit as a result of the pandemic, 2020’s figure being more than 25% down on 2019’s value. Mexico and Canada, meanwhile, continue to be Detroit’s major export destinations with the third and fourth most valuable markets being China and Spain respectively.

8 – Miami, FL

Total value of goods exported in 2020: $29.112 billion

Three of Miami’s top five exporting destinations are with southern neighbors, most notably Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, which between them account for about a sixth of all exports. This is no surprise given Miami’s favorable location on the southeastern tip of the United States, but the city also makes it easy for Latin American businesses to trade–helped by the fact it is blessed with multimodal infrastructure and is considered the America’s second-largest financial hub. Its most exported goods include computer and electronic products, transportation equipment and chemicals, with other key exporting destinations being Canada and Germany. Last year saw Miami take a heavy pandemic hit, with exports down 18% versus 2019.

9 – Corpus Christi, TX

Total value of goods exported in 2020: $28.784 billion

Corpus Christi is America’s foremost oil and gas export hub and is almost unique in registering a year-on-year growth in export revenues in 2020, which were up by $1.97 billion (7.3%). The Port of Corpus Christi saw a massive 65% growth in crude shipments last year, a remarkable feat given the immense volatility experienced in the global crude market. A major reason for this growth has been the recent development of pipeline infrastructure into the port from key production sites in western Texas. Corpus Christi’s major exporting destinations are mostly found in Europe and Asia, with the top five export markets comprising China, the Netherlands, the UK, South Korea and Taiwan.

10 – Portland, OR

Total value of goods exported in 2020: $27.824 billion

Completing the top 10 U.S. cities for global trade is Portland. Like Corpus Christi, it saw a considerable rise in the value of exported goods in 2020, reaching over $28.8 billion and growing by 17.1% ($4.062 billion) on 2019 export revenues. Given its proximity to Canada, it is little surprise to see its North America neighbor ranking in Portland’s top three exporting destinations. However, the city does far more business with Mexico and especially China, which alone accounts for more than a third of all export income ($9.784 billion). Here, there is strong demand for computer and electronics products, as well as machinery and agricultural goods.

The rest of the top 20 

11 – El Paso, TX ($27.154 billion)

12 – Atlanta, GA ($25.790 billion)

13 – San Francisco, CA ($23.864 billion)

14 – Seattle, WA ($23.850 billion) 

15 – Boston, MA ($23.234 billion)

The next highest-ranked group of cities sees us journey around the States, from El Paso in the South to Seattle up in the far Northwest.

El Paso just misses out on featuring in the top 10, but not by much. It’s huge trade with Mexico saw it amass more than $27 billion in exports in 2020, the majority of this involving computer and electronic goods. Next is Atlanta, which relies heavily on transportation equipment exports for its revenues, with Germany, Canada and Mexico all acting as key trading destinations. San Francisco adds another Californian city into the top 20 for global trade thanks to its notorious technology scene; Belgium, Canada and the three major East Asian economies of China, Japan and South Korea being the most valuable export markets there. Seattle also enjoys sizable export activity with China and nearby Canada, most notably in transportation equipment and food products. Completing the top 15 is Boston, which only saw a slight drop of 1.2% in exporting revenue in 2020, once again its key markets being China and Canada, along with Germany, Mexico and Japan.

16 – Philadelphia, PA ($23.022 billion)

17 – Cincinnati, OH ($21.002 billion) 

18 – San Jose, CA ($19.534 billion) 

19 – San Diego, CA ($18.999 billion) 

20 – Minneapolis, MN ($17.109 billion)

The final group making up the top 20 U.S. cities for global trade starts with Philadelphia, which is one of the country’s most prolific traders with the United Kingdom. Indeed, the UK is second only to Canada in terms of the value of goods received from the Pennsylvanian city, with the chemicals sector being the most valuable exporter.

In Ohio, Cincinnati makes the top 20 despite seeing a drop in exports of 27% last year. Despite this, the city still managed to export more than $10.5 billion of transportation equipment. The next two largest exporting metropolitan areas both reside in California, with San Jose ranking No. 18 thanks to its strong technology sector exports and healthy trading relations with major Asian economies such as China, Taiwan and Japan. San Diego, at No. 19, enjoys far stronger trade with Mexico, its main exporting sectors being manufactured goods, computer and electronic products, chemicals and machinery. Completing the top 20 is Minneapolis, whose key export destinations include Canada, Mexico and China, with strong exporting activity in the machinery, chemicals and electronics sectors.


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