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Regional conference on international trade in May

EU countries state’s No. export market

Canada and Mexico are generally acknowledged as Mississippi’s two most significant trading partners. But when the European Union (EU) countries are taken together, the EU comes out as having the largest impact on the Mississippi economy.

According to EU figures, Mississippi exports to the EU in 1998 were $767 million representing 6,700 jobs. Europe is also the No. 1 foreign investor in Mississippi, with 1997 investments amounting to $1.5 billion or 50% of total foreign investments in the state. The EU investments represented an estimated 11,800 jobs.

“The U.S. and particularly Mississippi would consider the EU a very important trading partner,” said Jerry McBride, president of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association. “We believe it is important for Mississippi to have good relations with the EU because they are such a large trading block. When the countries are taken together, they would be our largest partner exceeding our largest trading partners in the past, Canada and Mexico, and one year, Russia.”

Russia was an important trading partner primarily because of imports of poultry from Mississippi. But the decline of the Russian economy made that market collapse, and the loss of that market severely hampered Mississippians, McBride said. As a result, efforts need to be made to increase exports elsewhere, and experts say there is good potential for doing more business with the EU.

The Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development, along with its counterparts in Florida, the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce and a number of private companies, are sponsoring “World Trade Conference 2000, The European Market,” scheduled May 1-2 in Point Clear, Ala.. The number one export market for all three states is the EU. European investments in the U.S. are estimated to represent three million jobs.

McBride said exporting is extremely important because it expands markets for Mississippi manufacturers and provides jobs for Mississippi. He said that while NAFTA has cost Mississippi jobs in the apparel industry, the flip side of that is that it has increased jobs in the state in the paper, chemical and commercial machinery and transportation equipment industries.

“The largest category of exports from Mississippi in 1998 was chemicals and allied products including fertilizers,” McBride said. “The second largest category was paper and allied products primarily to Asia. The third largest category was industrial and commercial machinery exported primarily to Europe. The fourth largest category was transportation equipment such as fork lifts.”

Marguerite Wall, director of the International Trade Center, Hinds Community College, said that eight of the 15 EU countries are among the top 20 trading partners for Mississippi.

“It is a great market for us,” Wall said. “It is an extremely important market because it is very strong. It is a more stable market than many others because of economic concerns. The political and financial risks associated with doing business with the EU are much more favorable than many other countries. It is a very positive market for Mississippi products.”

Although there are language and cultural differences, Wall said that English is widely spoken in Europe. Another advantage is that Europeans are comfortable with U.S. products, and have confidence in them.

The upcoming World Trade Conference in Alabama will explore both the import and export side of the market. Foreign trade commissioners from France, Germany, Italy and Spain are on the program along with Bert van Barlinger, trade counselor for the European Commission. Senior foreign trade officers at the American embassies in Germany, Spain and France will give insight into improving trade opportunities in those countries. The keynote speaker for the conference is U.S. Rep. Sonny Callahan, who is chair of the House Sub Committee on Foreign Operations.

Sponsors say that the conference will allow participants access to foreign commercial service officers and other experts for advice on issues such as transportation, finance, legalities and marketing.

An advantage of the conference is pooling the resources of the three states in order to provide businesses in the region with current, critical information needed to remain competitive in the world economy.

“Everybody’’s resources are limited,” said Tony van Aken, director of trade and technology for the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce. “By combining our efforts and focus, we are in a better position to help companies in all three states export their products. This is an opportunity to be cooperative instead of competitive. We all want to accomplish the same thing, which is to help our companies export their products or services.”

Mike Lee, president, Page and Jones Inc., a freight forwarding shipping company headquartered in Mobile with 14 offices around the country, agreed that the conference is an excellent opportunity to enhance the region’s relationships with its number one foreign trade partners.

“We see this conference as a way to get specific information on a trade route for a large group of companies,” Lee said. “We picked some areas we thought were of heavy interest to a lot of manufacturers in this part of country, and tried to gather as much trade-related information as possible to give to them. This is a good example of an effort towards a more regional approach to trade that covers Alabama, Northwest Florida, and Mississippi working together to make more of this information available to companies in this region that are interested in international trade.”

Participants may register by calling the chamber at (334) 694-0702 and faxing a registration to (334) 431-8608. Internet registration is available at the Web site www.mobilechamber.org. The fee for the conference is $200.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.


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