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Maritime Vessels Carry More Than Half of Growing U.S.-East Africa Trade

Maritime Vessels Carry More Than Half of Growing U.S.-East Africa Trade

by Steven Beningo


Trade between the United States and East African countries
(defined in this special report as Burundi, Kenya,
Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) has grown substantially
in recent years, reaching $1.3 billion in value in 2007.
Between 1997 and 2007, U.S. exports to East Africa increased
at an average annual rate of 9.1 percent per year,
while imports grew by 7.7 percent.

In 2007, 57 percent of U.S. trade with East Africa took
place via seagoing vessel, and 22 percent by air. Trade by
air has increased slightly faster than vessel trade, at average
annual rates of 9.3 percent and 7.8 percent, respectively.

The remaining 21 percent of U.S. trade with East Africa
was classified by the U.S. Census Bureau as being
transported via "other" modes. The exports in the "other"
category consisted mostly of U.S. shipments of airplanes
to Kenya. These shipments cannot be classified as trade
by air because the aircraft itself was the commodity being
shipped, as opposed to being the vehicle that transports

Trade by East African Country

U.S. trade with East Africa amounts to less than 0.04
percent of the total U.S. international trade of $3.1 trillion.
Unlike most U.S. trading relationships, in recent years the
United States has maintained a trade surplus with East
Africa (more exports than imports). Of the $1.3 billion in
2007 U.S.-East Africa trade, U.S. exports accounted for
$862 million (68 percent), while U.S. imports totaled $412
million (32 percent).

Of the five East African countries, Kenya was the largest
trading partner of the United States. Figure 1 shows the
percentage of U.S. trade with each East African country in
2007, and the growth of that trade since 1997.

The $910 million in merchandise the United States traded
with Kenya in 2007 accounted for 71 percent of total U.S.
trade with East Africa-more than twice the combined total
of the other four countries. From 1997 to 2007, the average
annual growth rates of U.S. trade with Kenya and Tanzania
were greater than the growth rate for U.S.-Uganda trade
(figure 2).

Burundi and Rwanda, the two smallest countries in terms of
trade, gross domestic product, population, and area among
the five East African nations, had substantial drops in U.S.
trade from 1997 to 2007. Both Burundi and Rwanda experienced
trade disruptions during much of this period, but have
seen some growth in trade with the United States since
hitting decade lows in 2002 and 2003, respectively (figure
). U.S. trade with Burundi has seen a major shift in the
last decade. In 1997, only 4 percent of the value of all U.S.
trade with Burundi ($0.5 million) consisted of U.S. exports.
However, by 2007, U.S. exports of products to Burundi
accounted for 86 percent ($6.9 million) of all U.S.-Burundi

Growth in Maritime Trade by U.S. Region

In 2007, East African nations traded $723 million worth of
goods with the United States via vessel. Slightly more of
this vessel trade consisted of export trade ($376 million)
than import trade ($347 million). The value of vessel trade
increased 112 percent between 1997 and 2007.

Ports in the Northeast, Southeast, and Gulf Coast regions of
the United States were the entry or exit points for 85 percent
of U.S. trade with East Africa by vessel (figure 4). This
reflects the dominance of the trans-Atlantic shipping routes
favored by companies that trade by vessel between North
America and East Africa.

See box A for a definition of the states comprising each of
the U.S. regions in this report.

Box A: Region Definitions Used in this Report

For the purposes of this report, each region consists of
the following port districts:

Northeast: Portland, Maine; St. Albans, Vermont;
Boston, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island;
New York City, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
Baltimore, Maryland; and Washington, D.C.

Southeast: Norfolk, Virginia; Wilmington, North Carolina;
Charleston, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia;
Miami, Florida; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Charlotte
Amalie, Virgin Islands

Great Lakes: Ogdensburg, New York; Buffalo, New
York; Duluth, Minnesota; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Detroit,
Michigan; Chicago, Illinois; and Cleveland, Ohio

Gulf Coast: Tampa, Florida; Mobile, Alabama; New
Orleans, Louisiana; Port Arthur, Texas; and Houston/
Galveston, Texas

Southwest: Laredo, Texas; El Paso, Texas; Nogales,
Arizona; and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas
Pacific: Honolulu, Hawaii; San Diego, California; Los
Angeles, California; San Francisco, California; Portland,
Oregon; Seattle, Washington; and Anchorage,

Central: Great Falls, Montana; Pembina, North Dakota;
Minneapolis, Minnesota; and St. Louis, Missouri

SOURCE: Regions are as defined by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Growth in Air Transport Trade by U.S. Region

In 2007, the United States exported $226 million of goods to
East Africa by air. This was over four times greater than the
$55 million of goods that the United States imported from
those five nations. In both 1997 and 2007, the Northeast
had more than twice the trade by air with East Africa compared
to any other U.S. region (figure 5). In 2007, airports
run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey accounted
for $100 million of U.S. trade with East Africa by air.

The U.S. Gulf Coast had a 1,153 percent increase in
air transport trade with East Africa. This was in part the
result of a large increase in the shipment of aircraft parts
from the Houston District as well as an increase in export
shipments out of the New Orleans District, which includes
Memphis, Tennessee, where a major FedEx hub is located.

Container Transport at Major East African Ports

The two major ports in East Africa are Mombasa, Kenya,
and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. The Port of Mombasa
serves Kenya as well as the following neighboring countries:
Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic
of the Congo.1 In 2006, total trade with all countries
handled at the Port of Mombasa was 479,335 TEUs,2 a 9.8
percent increase over 2005.3 In terms of TEUs handled,
the Port of Mombasa ranked 142 in the world in 2006 (out
of over 2,800 commercial ports).

With 352,548 TEUs handled in 2006, the Port of Dar Es
Salaam ranked 174th in the world.3 Dar Es Salaam saw
a 15.3 percent growth in the number of TEUs handled
between 2005 and 2006.

Commodity Trends - U.S. Trade

U.S. Exports

The top commodity by dollar value (31 percent) exported
by the United States to East Africa in 2007 was aircraft
and aircraft parts (table 1). This commodity was also the
leading commodity exported to Kenya, accounting for 92
percent ($263 million) of all aircraft and parts exported to
East Africa. Aircraft and aircraft parts were also important
exports to Tanzania, making up the fourth largest commodity
by value exported to that country. Mechanical appliances
ranked as the top commodity exported to Tanzania
and Uganda in 2007, and the second largest commodity
exported to all five East African nations.

U.S. Imports

In terms of value, articles of clothing accounted for 61
percent of the merchandise imported by the United States
from East Africa (table 2) in 2007. Articles of clothing accounted
for 76 percent of imports from Kenya. Vessels
transported 93 percent of U.S. imports of Kenyan clothing.

Coffee, tea, and spices was another major import group,
accounting for 16 percent of the value of total imports to
the United States from East Africa. Vessels transported
94 percent of these coffee, tea, and spice imports. Most of
these imports were coffee ($55 million), followed by tea ($5
million), and vanilla beans ($4 million). Coffee, tea, and
spices was the leading commodity group imported from
four of the five East African countries: Burundi, Rwanda,
Tanzania, and Uganda.

Box B: U.S.-East Africa Transportation and Trade Highlights:

  • Maritime vessels carry 57 percent of all U.S.-East Africa trade,
    with 22 percent going by air.
  • Trade by Air is growing at a slightly faster rate (9.3 percent
    annually) compared to Maritime (7.8 percent).
  • The United States has a trade surplus with the five East Africa
    nations: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi.
  • Kenya is the largest U.S. trading partner in East Africa.
  • The Northeast is the leading U.S. region for both air and water ports
    of entry and exit in trade with East Africa.
  • The major U.S. export is aircraft parts and the leading U.S. imports
    are clothing and coffee.

1 Maritime Section, Kenya Ministry of Transport web site, http://www.transport.go.ke/

2 TEU: Twenty-foot equivalent unit

3 Lloyd's MIU, Containerization International Yearbook 2008, MPG Impressions, Great Britain, 2008.

About this Report

Steven Beningo, International Transportation
Specialist of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics
prepared this article. Zhi Liu of Macrosys provided
special assistance in creating the map. BTS is a
component of the Department of Transportation's
Research and Innovative Technology Administration.

This Special Report utilizes data from the United
States International Trade Commission Interactive
Tariff and Trade Data Web, http://dataweb.usitc.gov/
and the Census Bureau's U.S. Exports of Merchandise
and U.S. Imports of Merchandise

For related BTS data and publications: www.bts.gov

For questions about this or other BTS reports, call 1-800-853-1351, email answers@bts.gov or visit www.bts.gov.

Updated: Sunday, May 21, 2017