Wal-Mart executive, Gov. Hutchinson say free trade ties important to Arkansas

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 727 views 

A top executive for Walmart’s international operations expressed deep support for maintaining strong bilateral free trade alliances abroad, advising more than 200 people at an annual luncheon spotlighting the state’s top exporters that there is great opportunity in global trade.

Maggie Sans, senior vice president and chief affairs officers for Wal-Mart Stores’ China operations, told the audience at the Arkansas District Export Council’s annual Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Global Trade, that the Bentonville retail giant is a “vociferous advocate” for free trade.

“Many of you here know Wal-Mart well, and you know everything for us begins with the customers,” said Sans, the keynote speaker. “Around the globe, our goal is to save people money so they can live better.”

Sans told the business-friendly crowd at the Governor’s Mansion that since Wal-Mart established its first international presence with a Sam’s Club location in Mexico City, the company is now serving some 260 million customers a week in 28 countries across the globe. Sans said Wal-Mart has the same goal as most Arkansas companies involved in trade overseas.

“While our businesses are different in size and scope, we all want the same thing. We want to serve customers well, and we want to run a profitable and sustained business,” Sans said.

Sans said as the digital economy has exploded, the service sector has also grown significantly and impacted the company’s foreign investment and trade. She said with inconsistent rules and tariffs in different countries, Wal-Mart has had to navigate many hurdles to get products to market in a cost-effective manner. Sans also noted a recent Kinsey Global Institute estimating that more than $67 trillion in new infrastructure will be necessary over the next 15 years to meet global demand.

“The opportunities for American companies doing business will grow with it, and I hope Arkansas businesses can be on the winning side of that growth,” she said.

After Sans’ speech, Gov. Asa Hutchinson presented the Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Global Trade to five Arkansas manufacturers and service providers that contribute to the Arkansas economy through international trade. Before he made the presentations, Hutchinson talked about recognition for Arkansas that came from the Organization for International Investment (OII), which said that in the past five years Arkansas’ foreign direct investment employment growth of 41.5% has doubled the national average. Hutchinson first mentioned the OII recognition during a speech last week at an economic development conference in Pine Bluff that focused on the Arkansas Delta.

Maggie Sans, senior vice president and chief affairs officers for Wal-Mart’s operations, speaks at annual luncheon for the Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Global Trade.

“Trade is vitally important for Arkansas. Increasing exports of Arkansas-made and Arkansas-grown products results in two excellent outcomes,” said Hutchinson, who has made several trade missions abroad during his nearly 2-1/2 years in office. “It produces extra capital for companies to invest in their facilities and creates new employment opportunities for Arkansans.”

Hutchinson, who plans to make additional trips to Europe and the Far East later this summer, told the audience a story about his interaction with President Donald Trump during a White House visit earlier this year where they discussed global trade.

“I made the point to the president that he talked a lot about being tough on global trade, but I wanted to remind (him) that in Arkansas, we’re part of that global marketplace,” Hutchinson said. “Whether it’s rice that we export, or aero-defense products or electrical machinery, exports are so important to us … and I made that point to the president.”

Following are some of this year’s winners of the Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Global Trade.
• Arkansas Rising Star – Lycus, Ltd., LLC – El Dorado
• Advance Technologies & STEM Exporter – Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control – Camden
• Small Manufacturer Exporter – Garreco Dental, LLC – Heber Springs
• Medium Manufacturer Exporter – AK Industrial Contractors – Searcy
• Large Manufacturer Exporter- Cooper Tire & Rubber Company – Texarkana

This is the eighth year for the program which is co-sponsored by the Arkansas District Export Council, Arkansas Economic Development Commission, U.S. Commercial Service, and the Arkansas World Trade Center. Council members are appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and actively encourage manufacturers across the state to consider exporting as a realistic opportunity for growth.

Judging criteria was based on factors such as most recent percentage of export sales to total sales, growth of export sales over the past three years, the company’s goals and commitments internationally and the number of jobs saved or created due to the company’s export performance if applicable.

According to U.S. Commerce Department data, Arkansas’s export shipments of merchandise in 2016 totaled $5.7 billion. Additionally, there are 2,365 companies and almost 50,000 jobs that depend on Arkansas exports. The state’s largest trade partners in 2016 were Canada ($1.2 billion), France ($783 million), Mexico ($686 million) and Japan ($281 million).