The value of Louisiana’s exports rose by 18% in 2018 from the year before, despite a dramatic drop in the amount of goods headed for China, which had been the state’s biggest trading partner.

Louisiana’s exports were valued at $67.3 billion, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s up from $56.8 billion in 2017. Exports from the state accounted for 4% of all U.S. outbound trade activity, up from 3.7% in 2017.

Don Pierson, secretary of Louisiana Economic Development, said the state has a strong, diverse base of countries to export to that have more than made up for the loss of business with China. 

“Our efforts have centered around making sure we have outstanding infrastructure, with an emphasis on our ports,” he said.

China had been Louisiana’s biggest trading partner, accounting for nearly $7.7 billion in exports during 2017. That put the state as the nation’s fourth-biggest exporter to the country, behind only Washington, at $18 billion in exports, California and Texas, about $16.4 billion each. But business dropped sharply after President Donald Trump started levying tariffs on a range of goods in an effort to get China to drop predatory tactics, such as stealing trade secrets and forcing foreign companies to hand over technology. The Chinese retaliated to the tariffs by slapping fees on a host of U.S.-made goods headed for the country.

In 2018, Louisiana exports to China dropped by more than 60%, according to Census figures, coming in at just over $3 billion. That caused China, which had been a major market for Louisiana soybeans, oil, gas and chemical products, to drop down to being the state’s sixth-biggest trading partner. Louisiana now ranks 11th for exports to China.

While 2019 export figures for Louisiana aren't available yet, the Census Bureau said the value of U.S. exports to China in the first half of 2018 topped $64.1 billion. That number has taken a nosedive in the first half of 2019, falling by nearly 19% to $52 billion. 

In contrast to the declining business with China, Mexico, which got nearly $7.3 billion in Louisiana exports in 2017, saw its exports jump up to just over $9.2 billion, a 27% increase.

Exports to South Korea increased even more dramatically to nearly $4 billion in 2018 from $1.9 billion.

Louisiana exports to Brazil were up by nearly 34% to nearly $3.8 billion from $2.8 billion. Similar percentage increases were in the value of exports from Louisiana to Canada, to almost $3.6 billion from $2.7 billion, and the Netherlands, hich to almost $3.4 billion from $2.5 billion.

What has powered the increase in exports has been Louisiana’s energy sector. Petroleum exports were up by nearly 17% to $16.2 billion from $13.8 billion in 2017. Crude oil from petroleum was up from $2.3 billion to nearly $8.6 billion. Liquefied natural gas exports went from nearly $2.7 billion in 2017 to $3.9 billion in 2018.

While some of this was aided by rising crude oil prices and other commodities, Pierson said Louisiana has a bright future because of the LNG export terminals operating or nearing completion. “We aggregate so much of the shale gas and we have our own Haynesville Shale,” he said. “We’re really in the early days of dominance in this export.”

One major export product feeling the effect of the trade war with China is Louisiana soybeans and those from elsewhere exported through the state's ports. The value of soybean exports plunged by 19% to almost $8.6 billion from $10.6 billion. 

Andy Brown, the soybean commodity coordinator for the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, said China was the top market for Louisiana farmers and no other countries have picked up the slack in a significant way.

“The Chinese market is putting a hurting on soybean prices in general,” he said. Farmers were hurt by low prices and bad weather during the fall of 2018 and the upcoming harvest season looks to be just as bad or worse, Brown said. “We just hope the weather doesn’t hinder our farmers as much as last year,” he said.

Acadiana Business Today: First medical marijuana pharmacy in Acadiana to open Wednesday; Summer spike, overlapping departures causing missed flights, long TSA lines at Lafayette airport

Email Timothy Boone at