On the web

For an interactive map of the top NAFTA markets, go to:

brookings.edu/research/interactives/2013/metro-north-america

Charleston’s trade with NAFTA markets is less than several comparable metropolitan areas, but local commerce experts see growth on the horizon.

Looking at 2010 data, the Brookings Institution said in a new report that the Charleston region traded $992.7 million in goods with Canada and $653.4 million with Mexico that year.

North America accounted for 28.8 percent of all Charleston’s international commerce, the think tank said.

The biggest cargo category within the nearly $1.65 billion in NAFTA shipments was motor vehicles and automotive parts, followed by machinery and tools, chemicals and plastics, and metals, according to the report.

Toronto was the region’s top NAFTA business partner in 2010 at $194 million.

Overall, the study found that Charleston accounted for a fraction of the $885 billion worth of goods were traded among the United States, Mexico and Canada.

The region ranked No. 79 among the top 100 U.S. metropolitan areas. It was edged out by Columbia, which ranked 73rd with $1.76 billion traded with Canada and Mexico. The Capital City’s biggest driver of business was chemicals and plastics.

“The NAFTA countries continue to be important to South Carolina’s economy,” said state Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt. “Our state’s exports reached new heights in 2012, with Canada and Mexico as our number one and four export trading partners, respectively.”

NAFTA stands for the North American Free Trade Agreement. President Bill Clinton signed it into law 20 years ago next month.

Charleston trade officials said the Brookings ranking, while low, showed there’s room for growth. “That is an expectable ranking,” said Pennie Bingham, executive director for the World Trade Center Charleston. “I expect it to go even higher with all the initiatives in place and growth in our export sectors.”

World Trade Center Charleston, a part of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, recently unveiled a new export-boosting initiative with help from Brookings.

The Charleston Metro Export Plan calls for forming a regional council to help small businesses increase the volume of goods they ship overseas.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC