LITTLE ROCK -- Canada and Mexico continue to be the top destinations for Arkansas exports, according to the 2019 report by the World Trade Center of the University of Arkansas.
Last year Saudi Arabia was third on the list of foreign destinations, thanks to a 486% increase in sales of bombs, mines and ammunition from Arkansas. The spike in sales is attributable to a missile contract between Saudi Arabia and Lockheed Martin, which has a plant in Camden.
The value of bombs, mines and ammunition exported from Arkansas jumped from $169 million in 2016 and $79 million in 2017 to $463 million in 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau data cited by the World Trade Center. Of that total, $376 million were shipped to Saudi Arabia.
Civilian aircraft continues to be an important component of Arkansas exports, although its value dropped in 2018 compared to the year before. In 2017 Arkansas firms exported $1.5 billion of civilian aircraft overseas, and in 2018 the value of those exports dropped to $995 million.
Agricultural exports from Arkansas were valued at $3 billion last year. Almost half of those products were shipped to countries in the Western Hemisphere -- 23% went to Mexico, 15% went to Canada and 10% went to Haiti.
Hong Kong and the United Kingdom each bought 5% of the agricultural products shipped from Arkansas in 2018.
In all, Arkansas exported $6.5 billion worth of goods to foreign nations in 2018.
Exports represent an essential part of the state's economic foundation. For example, about 26% of all Arkansas jobs are supported by international trade. That represents about 350,000 people.
Canada and Mexico are easily the two most important export markets for Arkansas. Businesses in the two countries purchased $2 billion of Arkansas products last year, as well as $276 million in services.
Canada and Mexico account for more than a third of all Arkansas exports, and trade with the two countries support more than 120,000 jobs in Arkansas.
Growth in trade with Mexico has increased dramatically in the past few years, although not as much as trade with Saudi Arabia. In the 25 years since the United States signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, exports from Arkansas to Mexico have increased by 732%. The value of our exports to Mexico were estimated to be $870 million in 2018.
Ranked by the value of exported products, Arkansas is 37th in national rankings of states.
Other important categories of Arkansas exports are transportation equipment, chemicals, machinery and paper. The most valuable farm products exported from Arkansas last year were soybeans, rice, broiler meat and cotton.
The jobs supported by international trade are mostly in small businesses -- about 80%. According to business groups, those jobs generally pay more and are more secure than jobs in other areas.
After Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, the greatest amount of Arkansas exports were shipped to France, China and South Korea. The United Kingdom and Belgium followed.
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Editor's note: Arkansas Sen. Cecile Bledsoe represents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bledsoe is chair of the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.
Editorial on 12/18/2019