North American Transborder Freight Data

BTS released the Indexed Freight Flow Data: U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico, Trade by Mode. Indexed and nominal monthly data (beginning with 2004 data) can be found at the following interface:
BTS released the 2012 annual Transshipment data. Annual Data (beginning with 2006 data) on U.S. Transshipments through Canada or Mexico can be found at the following interface:
Value to Weight Ratios by Transportation Mode and Commodity (Import Only) are available via the following interface:
Users gained the ability to generate thematic maps after Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping capability was added to the following TransBorder interfaces:
QUERY DETAILED STATISTICS: May 2014 data are the most recent data. Next release will be on Thursday, August 28, 2014. Export weights for land modes are not available.
Click here to download the documentation file(PDF)

Overview

The North American Transborder Freight Database, available since April 1993, contains freight flow data by commodity type and by mode of transportation (rail, truck, pipeline, air, vessel, and other) for U.S. exports to and imports from Canada and Mexico. The database includes two sets of tables; one is commodity based while the other provides geographic detail. The purpose of the database is to provide transportation information on North American trade flows. This type of information is being used to monitor freight flows and changes to these since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by the United States, Canada and Mexico in December 1992 and its entry into force on January 1, 1994. The database is also being used for trade corridor studies, transportation infrastructure planning, marketing and logistics plans and other purposes. It allows users to analyze movement of merchandise by all land modes, waterborne vessels, and by air carriers.

Background

Since 1993 the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration at the United States (U.S.) Department of Transportation (DOT) has contracted with Bureau of the Census (Census) at the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) to provide previously unpublished transportation data by mode for U.S. import and export trade with Canada and Mexico. This dataset is referred to as the North American Transborder Freight Data, and begins with data for April 1993. Under the contract, Census processes and summarizes the data, and then provides two sets of data tables to BTS; one provides detailed transportation flows while the other is commodity based without as much transportation detail. A number of changes to improve the quality and usefulness of the data have occurred since the April dataset was first made available.

This description of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics' North American Transborder Freight Database provides a general overview of the database, a background of organizational roles, and a brief discussion of sources and coverage. For additional information, including specific field definitions, users should refer to the data documentation for the relevant period of their interest.

Coverage

Beginning with the 1997 data, the North American Transborder Freight Data represents official U.S. trade with Canada and Mexico for shipments that entered or exited the United States by surface modes of transport (other than air or maritime vessel). The data from April 1993 to December 1996 included official U.S. trade with Canada and Mexico by surface modes and transshipments that moved from a third country through Canada or Mexico to the United States or from the United States to a third country through Canada or Mexico. For this time period, it was not possible to separate transshipment activity from the official trade activity at the detailed level. Due to customer requests, BTS discontinued the inclusion of transshipment activity in the North American Transborder Freight Data beginning with the January 1997 data month. This allows customers to perform comparable trade analyses by mode of transportation.

Sources

The North American Transborder Freight Dataset is extracted from the Census Foreign Trade Statistics Program. Import and export data are captured from administrative records required by the Departments of Commerce and Treasury. Historically, these data were obtained from import and export paper documents that the U.S. Customs Service (Customs) collected at a port of entry or exit. However, an increasing amount of import and export statistical information is now being captured electronically.

  • Imports
    For imports from Canada and Mexico, over 96 percent of entries are collected electronically. U.S. imports of merchandise is compiled primarily from automated data submitted through the U.S. Customs' Automated Commercial System. Data are compiled also from import entry summary forms, warehouse withdrawal forms and Foreign Trade Zone documents as required by law to be filed with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Data on imports of electricity and natural gas from Canada are obtained from Canadian sources.
  • Exports
    U.S exports of merchandise are compiled primarily from the Automated Export System (AES), paper Shipper's Export Declarations (SEDs), and Canadian data provided by Statistics Canada. The United States is substituting Canadian import statistics for U.S. exports to Canada in accordance with a 1987 Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Census Bureau, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Canadian Customs, and Statistics Canada. This data exchange includes only U.S. exports destined for Canada and does not include shipments destined for third countries by routes passing through Canada.

Reliability

Import and export data are a complete enumeration of documents collected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and are not subject to sampling errors. However, while quality assurance procedures are performed at every stage of collection, processing, and tabulation, the data are still subject to several types of nonsampling errors. The most significant of these include reporting errors, undocumented shipments, timeliness, data capture errors, transiting goods, and underestimation of low-valued transactions.

The North American Transborder Freight Dataset is the best publicly available approximation for analyzing North American Transborder transportation flows. However, as was noted in previous sections, the North American Transborder Freight Data are a subset of these statistics. Users should be aware that trade data fields (such as value, commodity classification) are typically more rigorously reviewed than transportation data fields (i.e., mode of transportation and port of entry/exit). Users should also be aware that the use of foreign trade data to describe physical transportation flows might not be direct. For example, this dataset provides surface transportation information for individual Customs districts and ports on the northern and southern borders. However, because of filing procedures for trade documents, these ports may or may not reflect where goods physically crossed the border. This is because the filer of information may choose to file trade documents at one port while shipments actually enter or exit at another port.

Users should also note that the North American Transborder Freight Dataset represents Census' first attempt to disaggregate the various surface modes of transportation in U.S. foreign trade statistics. Since the dataset was first made available in April, it has gone through several refinements and improvements. When improbabilities and inconsistencies were found in the dataset, extensive analytical reviews were conducted, and improvements were made to the dataset based on these reviews. Therefore, the overall reliability of the dataset is generally very good. However, accuracy does vary by direction of trade and individual data field. For example, import data are generally more accurate than export data. This is primarily due to the fact that the Customs uses import documents for enforcement purposes while it performs no similar function for exports.

Time Series

The North American Transborder Freight Data is available in monthly detail for April through the present, although not all data elements currently available in the dataset were available beginning at that time. Prior to 1993, the Census Bureau only provided mode of transportation information for air, water and other. No detail was available for trade by surface mode of transportation. In response to growth in North American trade and the anticipated passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the U.S. Department of Transportation contracted with the Census Bureau to tabulate official trade statistics whereby the previous "other" category could be separated into individual surface modes for U.S. trade with Canada and Mexico. Today, North American freight transportation data are available for all modes of transportation.

Formats and Availability

BTS provides access to the data through an interactive searchable interface called North American Transborder Web. This allows users to create multivariable cross-tabulations on port, geography and commodity for all modes of transportation. Search results can be viewed online and then downloaded.

Additionally, the monthly and annual North American Transborder Freight Data can be downloaded in raw table formats. Users with a need to customize and manipulate these statistics for various purposes may choose to download these files instead of using the interactive searchable interface.

Because of the desire to offer the highest level of timeliness to customers, BTS releases the North American Transborder Freight Data online on a monthly schedule. For additional information contact the BTS Info Services at 800-853-1351 or RITAInfo@dot.gov.