JACKSON — Professionals who have considered expanding their business beyond U.S. borders will have a chance to chat with executives, legal and financial experts and policymakers with extensive experience in the international trade arena at the Governor’s Conference on International Trade this week.
Exploring Mississippi’s trade potential is the theme of the conference, which will be held 8 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. March 14, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jackson. The Mississippi Development Authority, the state’s economic development arm, is coordinating the conference in partnership with the governor’s office and Mississippi Economic Council, a state chamber of commerce since 1949.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said the trade conference “gives us the opportunity to promote the awareness of international trade, enhance existing trade programs and send a strong signal to national and international prospects that Mississippi has the capabilities to meet their global market needs.”
“The conference should prove to be an excellent forum to advance our efforts as a major competitor in the global based economy,” said Mississippi Development Authority executive director J.C. Burns. “The passage of the Advantage Mississippi Initiative and the announcement of a $930-million manufacturing plant by Nissan have shown the world that Mississippi is serious about meeting the needs of business both domestically and internationally.”
Three comprehensive forum panels, beginning at 9 a.m. and repeated at 10:30 a.m., will feature key executives from Mississippi companies, legal and financial experts and top policy makers to discuss business perspectives, legal and financial perspectives and a vision for Mississippi’s future, all focused on international trade.
“Mississippi’s trade potential is unlimited and can be a tremendous source of added wealth to companies that call Mississippi home,” said MEC president Blake A. Wilson. “International trade is a new frontier, one that must be explored so that success can break through borders around the world.”
Donald B. Ensenat, former ambassador to Brunei and past president and chairman of the 2,200-member World Trade Center in New Orleans, the original model of more than 300 World Trade Centers around the world, will be the keynote speaker. A New Orleans native, Ensenat received degrees from Yale University and Tulane University School of Law, and is married to a Mississippian, the former Taylor Harding of Greenville.
Most recently, Ensenat took a two-year leave of absence from his law firm to serve his longtime friend, George W. Bush, as Louisiana Chair of, first, the Bush for President primary campaign and, then, the Bush-Cheney general election campaign. He also served on President George W. Bush’s Transition Team and Inaugural Committee.
“The conference is designed to promote the value of international trade and to offer multiple perspectives from Mississippi business leaders, to raise our state’s visibility as an international player and to make others aware of our trade potential,” said Heath Hall, senior vice president of MEC. “Companies in various industries from all over the state will benefit when given the opportunity to expand their horizons.”
International issues discussed may include business relations with, and the economic status of, Japan, the effects of NAFTA, euro currency, the Swedish-American relationship and the parameters of the recent relaxation of the 38-year trade embargo against Cuba.
William A. Taylor III, president of Taylor Machine Works in Louisville, the largest privately-held, family-owned producer of lift trucks and a conference panel member, will talk about the company’s international trade relations with Mexico, Canada, South America and Asia.
“Right now, the dollar strength is just horrible,” Taylor said. “It has really opened the door for importers to take a whack at us and puts us at a tremendous disadvantage.”
Taylor Machine Works doesn’t do much business with Japan or Europe “basically because our competitive base already exists in their backyards,” Taylor said.
Conference attendees will pick up pointers about “going international.”
“We’ll talk about what we’ve experienced, and show some of the unique pieces of equipment we’ve marketed internationally, and tell some quick highlight points, some do’s and don’ts of international trade,” he said.
Last October, when Congress approved a $78-billion farm bill, providing $3.6 billion in disaster assistance and other election-year aid to farmers, federal lawmakers also voted to relax the 38-year-old trade embargo against Cuba. Even though the sale of food to Cuba would be allowed with the passage of the bill, it bars the federal government or U.S. banks from financing the shipments.
Rick Taylor, director of the Hattiesburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, said recent evidence of some lessening of restrictions, even with only food and medicine, indicates a slight step toward an opening of the relationship between Cuba and the U.S.
“Right now, we’re waiting with baited breath for that to open up — it’s a huge market,” William Taylor said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 853-3967.