Arkansas exports to Canada and Mexico increased by nearly 14 percent from 2016 to 2017, reaching $2.1 billion in goods alone last year, according to recently released U.S. Census Bureau data.
The two countries receive one-third of all Arkansas exports, according to a University of Arkansas news release.
Total exports of goods for Arkansas also increased, by nearly 11 percent last year to $6.3 billion, according to Melvin Torres, director of Western Hemisphere Trade at the World Trade Center Arkansas.
"This is one of the highest increases in the history of the state. The increase was mostly driven by Canada and Mexico's dramatic increase in imports during 2017," he said in the release.
Canada and Mexico are Arkansas' largest trading partners by billions of dollars, and trade with the two countries supports more than 110,000 jobs.
"Last year was an extraordinary year for Arkansas exports to NAFTA countries," Torres said. "Overall, exports to Canada and Mexico have increased by 400 percent and 700 percent respectively since NAFTA was implemented in 1994. This latest data release shows that the Arkansas economy depends substantially on NAFTA exports."
The 2017 exports from Arkansas to Mexico reached their highest point since 2014. Year-over-year, they increased by nearly 24 percent to $847 million, and those exports are increasing 3.6 times faster than exports from any other country.
"Mexico's stunning and rapid growth is accelerating Arkansas export increases to both partners," Torres said. "These increases reflect the overall trend since NAFTA was implemented as well as the intense efforts of the World Trade Center Arkansas during the past two years. Our increased efforts to engage with both private and government partners have brought synergy and collaboration with both countries."
The biggest categories of exports to Mexico are transportation equipment, food and agriculture goods such as rice. Mexico buys 26 percent of all agriculture goods exported from Arkansas.
Top exports to Canada include agriculture goods, machinery and equipment; Canada imports 18 percent of its agriculture goods from Arkansas.
Arkansas exports significantly more to both countries than it imports, meaning it enjoys a positive trade balance, Torres said.
The seventh round of NAFTA negotiations began last Sunday, and the World Trade Center Arkansas has submitted comments and publicly testified in Washington, D.C. on behalf of 150 Arkansas companies benefitting from the agreement.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke at the World Trade Center Arkansas on Jan. 16 about the importance of NAFTA.
"Overall, Arkansas and its leaders at state and federal levels recognize that NAFTA is critical to our state," Torres said in the release. "We understand the need for updates in areas like e-commerce and intellectual property, but, overall, NAFTA benefits the exporting Arkansas companies and employees who earn an average 18 percent more than non-trade related jobs. All of Arkansas percentage indicators outperform the U.S. national average on NAFTA exports."