State’s Foreign Trade Zones are top performers nationwide

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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.

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