Skip to main content

Report: Global Economic Recovery Will Help Lift Houston

Published May 26, 2021 by A.J. Mistretta

KEI Meta - Foreign Trade

HOUSTON (May 26, 2021)— Following a year marred by the pandemic and a global recession, Houston’s role as a center for foreign trade and international business is likely to support the region’s economic recovery in the months and years ahead. That’s according to a new analysis released by the Greater Houston Partnership in conjunction with its Global Houston report

The analysis documents a rapid and dramatic shift as COVID-19 took hold here beginning in March 2020:

  • Port of Houston tonnage fell 2.3 million metric tons (6.7 percent) during the pandemic, nearly all the decline occurring in shipments of crude and refined products. 
  • The Houston Airport System handled 3.9 million international passengers in 2020, down from 12 million the prior year. Over sixty percent of those passengers traveled in Q1 2020, before countries imposed restrictions on international travel.
  • The poor job market, international travel restrictions, and anti-immigrant rhetoric slowed the flow of newcomers from aboard. International migration fell to 24,587 residents, the lowest level in over 20 years. 
  • Foreign direct investment (FDI) declined as well. The Partnership documented just 11 business relocations and expansions from companies headquartered overseas in 2020, down from a typical annual average of 30 to 40 such announcements. 

The deployment of vaccines in the U.S. and other industrialized nations has significantly diminished the number of new COVID-19 infections and severe illness in those countries. Around 1.6 billion vaccine does have been delivered worldwide as of mid-May. Nevertheless, many poorer nations without the necessary resources are lagging in vaccinations and some have yet to administer one dose. 

Despite the headwinds, the arrival of vaccines has launched a global economic recovery, which bodes well for Houston, according to the report. At last estimate, the Brookings Institution in 2017 found that exports alone support 17.3% of Houston’s GDP. Partnership research estimates direct and indirect employment in the region tied to exports is about 470,000 jobs. Today, Houston’s fortunes are tied as much to the global economy as they are to the U.S. economy and energy. 

“The U.S. and China are leading the global recovery,” said Partnership Senior Vice President of Research Patrick Jankowski. “The IMF expects Brazil, France, India, Indonesia, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Turkey and the U.K. to make solid contributions as well. The good news for Houston is that all of the region’s major export markets are expected to have solid growth this year and next.” 

Other data included in the report reflects Houston’s influence as a global business hub: 

  • Houston has trading relationships with more than 200 countries.
  • The Houston-Galveston Customs District ranked first in tonnage handled (exports and imports) in 2020, a position it’s held 11 of the last 15 years. The district ranked sixth in value of shipments (exports and imports) last year.
  • The value of exports via the district have exceeded imports since 2013.
  • Since 2009, foreign-owned firms have announced nearly 700 plant, warehouse or office expansions, start-ups or relocations in Houston.
  • Nearly 150 Houston-headquartered companies operate nearly 3,000 offices, plants, or distribution centers in over 100 countries.

“We talk often of Houston as a great global city—one that competes with the likes of London, Tokyo, Sao Paulo and Beijing. But that’s only possible because of our infrastructure—namely our port—and our connections around the world,” said Partnership President and CEO Bob Harvey. “Houston’s ties abroad remain strong. We have long been a major international gateway and today we can tout 41 Fortune Global 1000 firms, over 1,700 foreign-owned firms operating in our region and, of course, the top U.S. port.” 
A complementary report, Global Houston: Insights into the Region’s Top 20 Trading Partners, provides additional statistics and information about Houston’s international business ties and ranks the region’s top 20 trade partners. The value of goods and services traded declined among many leading partners in 2020 due in large part to the pandemic. 
Top 5 Houston trade partners and the value of trade in 2020: 

  1. China — $19.3 billion, up from $14.7 billion in 2019. 
  2. Mexico — $14.5 billion, down from $21.7 billion in 2019. 
  3. Brazil — $12.0 billion, down from $15.1 billion in 2019. 
  4. Korea — $9.5 billion, down from $13.2 billion in 2019. 
  5. Germany— $9.5 billion, down from $10.0 billion in 2019. 

View the Global Houston: Insights Into the Region’s Top 20 Trading Partners here and the Analysis of International Trade and its Impact on Houston’s Economy here


Greater Houston Partnership
The Greater Houston Partnership works to make Houston one of the best places to live, work and build a business. As the economic development organization for the Houston region, the Partnership champions growth across 11 counties by bringing together business and civic-minded leaders who are dedicated to the area’s long-term success. Representing 1,000 member organizations and approximately one-fifth of the region’s workforce, the Partnership is the place business leaders come together to make an impact. Learn more at

A.J. Mistretta 
Vice President, Communications         
(c) 504-450-3516 |

Maggie Martin 
Senior Manager, Communications

Related News

International Business

Mayor Turner, Partnership Lead Investment and Trade Mission to Japan

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Greater Houston Partnership embarked this week on an investment and trade mission to Japan to establish new avenues for cooperation in energy, innovation, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, and transportation/mobility. During the week-long mission, Mayor Turner, Partnership CEO Bob Harvey, and delegates will meet with high-ranking government leaders and business executives in the Japanese cities of Tokyo and Chiba to promote Houston’s economic, governmental and cultural ties. The mayor also is scheduled to speak at the U.S.-Japan Council 2022 annual conference on the topic, "Leveraging Subnational Action to Solve Global Problems."  Day one of the official engagements included a briefing at the U.S. Embassy in Japan, followed by a meeting at JETRO. This nonprofit organization connects businesses with the resources they need to expand successfully to Japan. Later in the week, the delegation will travel to Chiba to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the sister-city relationship between the City of Houston and the City of Chiba. Mayor Turner will join the mayor of Chiba to reaffirm the Sister City Agreement executed on October 24, 1972, and vow to continue working in unison for the mutual benefit of our cities and people. "Houston’s Sister City relationship with Chiba City, established 50 years ago, is one example of the friendship that has contributed to our robust trade relationship," said Mayor Turner. "The relationship between the Port of Houston and ports in Japan are key to this trade growth, as is the more than 70 companies, including Daikin, Mitsubishi, and Toshiba, that continue to make major investments in our City." In 2021, Houston-Japan trade surged to a decade-high of $12 billion, according to the GHP. The increase in total trade can be attributed to the rise in the import value of industrial equipment, computers, electrical machinery, and parts, and motor vehicles and parts, as well as an increase in the export value of fuels and refined products, plastics, and plastic products, and organic chemicals. "The Greater Houston Partnership is excited to partner with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on a trade and investment mission to Japan, the largest foreign investor into the United States and one of Houston’s top 10 global trade partners. Trade between our regions has more than doubled over the past decade, and Houston is home to an impressive set of Japanese firms,» said Partnership President and CEO Bob Harvey. «International missions are an important part of our effort to strengthen Houston’s ties with our partners around the world and we’re looking forward to the discussions that will take place in Japan." Houston – Japan Business Facts: Thirteen Houston firms operate twenty-seven subsidiary locations in Japan, including Chevron, Halliburton, American Bureau of Shipping, and BMC Software. Seventy-one Japanese firms operate 242 subsidiaries in the Houston area, including JETRO, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, and Mitsui & Co. Of Houston’s 16 foreign-owned banks, three are from Japan: Mizuho Bank, MUFG Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation. Trade and cultural relationships with Japan are facilitated in Houston through the Consulate General of Japan, the Japan Business Association, and the Japan-America Society of Houston (JASH). "Japan is Houston’s fourth largest Asian trading partner. Over the next several days, I will focus on encouraging Japanese companies to increase their business in the City of Houston. We have the workforce and infrastructure and can offer a stable and reliable partnership," said Mayor Turner. Other engagements during the investment and trade mission will include a briefing and ride on the Japanese bullet train in coordination with Texas Central Rail and Japan Central Railway. The night before returning home on Oct. 30,  the delegation will attend the Houston Ballet’s first-ever performance of Stanton Welch’s Swan Bunka Kaikan in Tokyo, Japan. Learn more about Houston's international business ties. 
Read More

Related Events