Tennessee Trade Report 2nd Quarter 2021

Tables and Graphs

Tennesee's Most Rapidly Changing Exports

Tennessee's Largest Export Industries

Tennessee's Largest Markets

Tennessee's Most Rapidly Changing Markets

Second quarter exports skyrocketed from the depths of 2020.  Tennessee exported $8.37 billion in the second quarter, a more than fifty percent increase from a year ago. This was not simply a bounce-back, because the state exported some $800 million more than in the second quarter of 2019.

The Automotive Sector Led the Way

The state’s traditional large export sectors led the way.  Shipments of SUVs and sedans grew by an astounding $350 million (to $421 million) for the quarter. As might be expected, this was mostly to Canada and Mexico. Passenger vehicle exports to Canada ballooned from $51 million to $315 million, while those to Mexico rose from $1 million to $16 million. The state’s second largest regional car market, the Persian Gulf states, also posted robust gains, rising from $6 million to $41 million. A surprise is Russia, which purchased $19 million worth of Tennessee-made vehicles in the second quarter (vs. $4 million a year earlier).

Right behind cars was the cell phone industry.  Cell phone shipments from Tennessee have been rising at a phenomenal rate.  In the second quarter, they grew by 248 percent, to $395 million. Almost all of those go to two locales, Hong Kong or the Philippines. But it was Hong Kong that grabbed almost all the export increase.  It was the site of an additional $180 million of cell phones in the second quarter.  As a result, Hong Kong was the single fastest growing destination for state exporters, and it rose to become Tennessee’s sixth largest overall market.

It was also an excellent quarter for the medical instrument industry, once again the single largest segment of Tennessee’s exports. It added $200 million in exports. The gains were global, with large increases to Europe (up $67 million), China ($65 million), Singapore and southeast Asia ($44 million), and Latin America ($17 million). Shipments of these products to Canada also increased substantially (up $13 million).


Sector $ Gains (Millions) % Quarterly Gain
Motor Vehicles     $353    12%
Cell Phones     $281    10%
Artificial Joints; Orthopedics     $215      7%
Medical Instruments     $202
Total Gain   $2,885  

...but it was a Very Good Quarter for Most Exports

The plastics and synthetics sector was another big winner.  It picked up some $190 million in exports for the quarter. Most of these gains were in China (and Hong Kong) and in Canada and Mexico. Indeed, the list could on.  Medicaments, dyes and coloring matter, tires, diesel engines, and aluminum foil were among the commodities that doubled their exports.  Orthopedics and artificial joints, computers, pharmaceuticals, cotton, motor vehicle parts, and engine parts all saw their shipments increase by $50 million or more. In such an environment, rare were the industries that lost ground. Nonwovens, artificial filament, and textile fabrics (all in the textile industry) were close to the only Tennessee commodities that experienced losses for the quarter. 

The Gains Were Worldwide

It will come as no surprise that the gains were worldwide.  Both Canada and Mexico came within striking distance of doubling their imports from Tennessee. The gains in Canada (from $947 million to $1.8 billion) were the largest of any country. Though the NAFTA growth was across many industries, at its heart was the automotive sector. East Asian countries accounted for more than $500 million of Tennessee’s increased exports.  Besides Hong Kong, China grew strongly due to increased purchases of medical equipment, chemicals, and plastics, while Japan added some $75 million, largely from the automotive and instrumentation sectors. Tennessee exports to the euro area grew by one-third (to $1.445 billion). Much of this was due to very large increases in medical-related shipments to Belgium and the Netherlands.  Exports to Latin America were up sixty percent, crossing the $2 billion mark. Big increases in pharmaceutical exports to Argentina, along with a wide array of products to Brazil, were the backbone of this growth.  The Gulf region, where motor vehicle exports dominate the picture, more than doubled its Tennessee purchases.  India, Vietnam, and Russia are a partial list of other countries where Tennessee shipments grew by more than fifty percent. In fact, Tennessee exporters suffered serious reverses in only two countries: Switzerland (medical instruments, and orthopedics and artificial joints) and the Czech Republic (telephone set parts). It is very difficult to think of another quarter where the export numbers were so uniformly positive.

In large part, these results are the snap-back from the terrible export situation during last year’s initial covid epidemic.  It is unrealistic to expect results like this again. But it is heartening that the “snap back” snapped further than the earlier decline and has been so broad across both commodities and countries. As we know, we are not yet out of the woods! The coming months will tell us how permanent the quarter’s export growth was. But for now, it certainly counts as good news.