With Arkansas’ growing trade relationship with Asian countries, Gov. Mike Beebe (D) will soon get a first-hand look.

Beebe will lead an economic development trade mission to China in April, Talk Business has confirmed. The trip will focus on recruiting potential businesses to Arkansas as well as pushing new export opportunities in China for Arkansas products and services.

“As Governor, I have always been reluctant to travel far from Arkansas, and have resisted many trade missions that were proposed to me. However, China is such an important partner for American trade, and there are so many opportunities there for bringing new investment and jobs to Arkansas. As a result, this is one trip I’ve agreed to make so that I can personally lead our Arkansas trade delegation,” Beebe tells Talk Business.

Many details of the schedule are still fluid, according to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, which will coordinate the trip.

“He is scheduled to go in April, but we are still working on dates and a final schedule,” said AEDC spokesman Joe Holmes. “This is his first trip, and he may be the first Governor [from Arkansas] to make the trip to China.”

Holmes said key meetings may be kept confidential to protect sensitive negotiations for economic prospects similar to a trade mission Beebe made to Europe a few years ago. That trip resulted in several European companies like Nordex, Dassault Falcon and St. Gobain locating or expanding operations in Arkansas.

Several Arkansas lawmakers and elected officials have toured China in recent years. Most have been funded by the Chinese government or through programs with ties to the Chinese government, which has seen the exchanges as a positive public relations tool.

Holmes said the expenses for Beebe’s trip would be paid by the agency’s budget and the AEDC Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises and spends money for additional economic development projects.

WHY CHINA?
While Chinese imports and the country’s impact on American jobs attract plenty of media attention, China has been an explosive growth region for Arkansas exports during the decade of the 2000′s.

According to statistics from the U.S.-China Business Council, Arkansas exports to China grew from only $20 million in 2000 to a peak of $336 million in 2010. In 2011, exports to China leaped nearly 76% from 2010, according to U.S. Commerce Department data.

Former AEDC Director Maria Haley recognized the emerging trends early in her tenure. In 2008, she contracted the agency with Yuan and Associates to develop Arkansas-Chinese business relationships. Haley also hired a project manager within the agency to work with prospects in China and other Asian countries.

Haley, who died Sept. 13, 2011, following a brain aneurysm, travelled to China as part of a Southern Governors’ Association trip in mid-2010.

“This is a tremendous occasion for Arkansas and our Southern neighbors to build lasting relationships with China,” Haley said in advance of the trip. “China’s presence in the global marketplace continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and we cannot afford to stand idly by and watch competing states and nations establish trade opportunities that will benefit the people in the American South. We must act now if we want to succeed later.”

The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce led in November a contingency of state business leaders to China on a 10-day informational trip.

PRODUCT LINES
There are plenty of small Arkansas companies that do business with China, but many high-profile public firms based in Arkansas rely on China trade. Some of those household companies include Walmart, Acxiom, Arkansas Best, J.B. Hunt, Tyson Foods and Cobb-Vantress.

Arkansas’ top exports to China include chemicals, processed foods and crop production, as well as computers, electronics and electrical equipment.

An August 2011 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco shows that products from China account for 2.7% of U.S. personal consumer expenditures.

“A total of 88.5% of U.S. consumer spending is on items made in the United States. This is largely because services, which make up about two-thirds of spending, are mainly produced locally,” noted the report.

The report also noted that Chinese imported goods consist mainly of furniture and household equipment, other durables, and clothing and shoes. In the clothing and shoes category, 35.6% of U.S. consumer purchases in 2010 was of items with the “Made in China” label.