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State's Foreign Trade Zones are top performers nationwide

BMW makes S.C. foreign trade zones among busiest (copy)

Upstate-made BMWs prepare to be exported from the State Ports Authority’s Columbus Street Terminal in Charleston. BMW and its suppliers account for 94 percent of goods moving through a pair of Foreign Trade Zones in South Carolina. File/Staff

A pair of Foreign Trade Zones in South Carolina leads the nation in import and export totals, with Upstate automaker BMW and vehicle suppliers statewide accounting for 94 percent of the value of all goods moving in and out of the sites.

FTZ-21 in Dorchester County, which is off Interstate 26 near Summerville, is the nation's top facility for exports, with between $5 billion and $10 billion worth of goods leaving the property each year for overseas markets. More than 25,000 people work at companies using the zone.

The federal Foreign Trade Zones Board, which compiles the data for its annual report to Congress, allows companies to report employment and financial figures within a range rather than specific amounts.

FTZ-38 in Spartanburg County is the top import zone, with between $25 billion and $50 billion worth of goods arriving annually. BMW's manufacturing plant is located within the foreign trade zone and is the zone's biggest user. More than 23,000 people work at companies using the facility.

Businesses that operate within the specially designated trade zones do not have to pay duty and certain fees on products they import until those products are moved, possibly months later, out of the zone and into the U.S. market.

If a product never enters the U.S. market, no duty can be owed. For example, BMW can import parts to the Upstate FTZ, install those parts on its vehicles and then send those vehicles to the Port of Charleston for export.

Both of the foreign trade zones are administered by the State Ports Authority, which operates the Port of Charleston.

There were 195 active FTZs nationwide in 2016, the most recent statistics available. More than 420,000 people were employed at the roughly 3,300 companies using FTZs that year. The value of shipments into foreign trade zones totaled over $610 billion while goods exported from the zones reached nearly $76 billion.

2pellets plastics SPA.jpg (copy)

Plastic pellets — these destined for Europe — are packaged at the Frontier Logistics warehouse at the Port of Charleston. Plastics are a growing export commodity at the port. Wade Spees/Staff/File

Plastic fantastic

Overseas shipments of plastic pellets are on the rise at the Port of Charleston, which now accounts for 6.7 percent of all U.S. exports of the commodity, a Journal of Commerce report shows. That's up from a 5.5 percent share a year ago.

Through May, the amount of plastic pellets moving through the port has increased 15 percent to 17,559 cargo containers measured in 20-foot increments, the journal reported. That's expected to pick up during the second half of this year, typically the peak season for plastics exports.

The pellets are made at refineries along the Gulf Coast and then shipped by rail to warehouses in Charleston to be packaged and sent overseas. Despite its growth, Charleston remains a small market for the pellets with more than half of them exported from ports in Houston and New Orleans.

Most of the plastic pellets shipped from the U.S. are sent to markets in Europe, South America and Africa, according to the Journal of Commerce.


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Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_