Growing demand for Minnesota goods in South Korea and Mexico countered weakness in some traditional markets.
Minnesota exports grew modestly in the first quarter compared with a year ago, as declines in parts of Europe and Asia were offset by increased demand in South Korea and Mexico.
Companies in Minnesota shipped $4.9 billion worth of goods to foreign countries in the first three months of the year, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development reported Thursday. That was up 2 percent from a year earlier and represented a new record for Minnesota exports during the winter months.
"Minnesota companies continue to attract new business overseas, which creates opportunities for them to expand and add jobs back home," said Katie Clark, executive director of the Minnesota Trade Office.
Exports to Canada, the state's largest trade partner by far, were up 2 percent to $1.3 billion. South Korea and Mexico were the two fastest growing markets, exports to China fell slightly year over year, and in a troubling sign of the economic turmoil in Europe, exports to Germany fell 12 percent.
Minnesota's key exports are machinery, medical devices, and electrical machinery.
Global sales of Minnesota machinery and medical devices each grew in the quarter by 10 percent, driven by demand in the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan. Sales of electrical machinery and vehicles fell 9 percent and 6 percent, respectively, as Chinese demand softened.
An agreement approved by Congress in October to lower trade barriers with South Korea, which the White House calls the "most commercially significant free trade agreement in almost two decades," is expected to add an estimated $10 billion to annual U.S. exports.
Minnesota is already seeing the impact. Exports to South Korea rose 26 percent in the first quarter, as the nation surpassed Germany, reflecting a larger shift in Minnesota exports from Europe to Asia. South Korea bought $78 million worth of medical products from Minnesota, and $24 million worth of pork.
Exports to Mexico also boomed in the first quarter, up 24 percent on the strength of agricultural and food-related sales.
Chinese exports fell in part because of slackened demand for electrical machinery, a category that includes motors, generators, batteries, electrodes, parts, and several other things.
Exports of beverages fell $37 million in the quarter, mostly to Canada. Aircraft and spacecraft exports dropped $80 million, especially to Singapore. Exports of pharmaceutical products fell in Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom by more than 75 percent in each market.
African exports rose 12 percent compared with the first quarter of 2011, to $41 million, led by South Africa, which purchased $17.8 million worth of Minnesota goods in the first three months of the year.
Adam Belz • 612-673-4405