(March 22) The highways connecting the United States to its northern and southern neighbors are crowded with trucks bearing fruits and vegetables and other products.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, trade using surface transportation between the U.S. and its North American Free Trade Agreement partners, Mexico and Canada, was up at least 10% in 2005.

That’s the second consecutive year of growth of 10% or more, according to the department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Imports to the U.S. from Canada and Mexico totaled $401 billion, while exports rose to $297 billion. Trade in 2005 was up 29% over 2002 and 89% over 1995, according to the report.

The report’s findings were not broken down by industry, said Dave Smallen, a DOT spokesman.

Gary Lucier, an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, said Canada enjoys a thriving export market to the U.S. in greenhouse tomatoes and other greenhouse product, with double-digit growth rates.

And with hurricanes putting a dent in U.S. fresh produce supplies the past two years, Mexican exports have done a good job of filling the gaps, Lucier said.

It’s no surprise to Lucier that NAFTA has led to more fruits and vegetables coming into the U.S. from its neighbors rather than the other way around.

“It kind of makes sense, considering that the U.S. has so much disposable income, and that we’re one of the richest markets in the world, if not the richest,” he said. “You just have to look at the data over the past ten years to see that imports have been much greater than exports.”

Five times in the past decade, surface trade between the NAFTA partners hit double digits. In 2004, trade was up 12.6%; in 2000 14.9%; in 1999 11%; and in 1996 10.8%.

During three of the past 10 years, growth was in the single digits. In 2003, trade grew just 4.1%, in 1998 6% and in 1997 3.8%. Two years in a row, trade was down between the NAFTA partners: in 2002 it was down 1.2%, and in 2001 it was down 4.9%.

Surface transportation trade between the U.S. and Canada was up 12% over 2004, to $458 billion. Imports were up 8%, while exports climbed 11%.

Michigan led all states in surface trade with Canada with $72 billion. After Michigan were, in order, Illinois, New York, Ohio, California, Texas, Washington, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Tennessee.

Trucked shipments between the U.S. and Mexico was up 7% in 2005, totaling $240 billion. Imports were up 7% and exports 5%.

Texas was the state leader in trade with Mexico with $78 billion. After Texas were, in order, California, Michigan, Arizona, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, New York and North Carolina.

All modes of surface transportation between the U.S. and Mexico and Canada saw gains in 2005, according to the DOT report. Truck imports were up 7.7% and exports were up 9% over 2004. Rail imports were up 4.2% and exports were up 16% over 2004. And pipeline imports were up 32.4% and exports were up 75.7%.