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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

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