Growth in sales to Canada, Brazil helped boost exports by 0.6% to $5.1 billion.
Minnesota exports grew to $5.1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2012 in another record-setting quarter for the state’s businesses.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development said exports were up 0.6 percent, led by $4.6 billion in sales of manufactured goods. That lagged the national average, which was 2.8 percent.
Sales to Canada, by far the largest foreign destination for Minnesota goods, increased 5.1 percent to $1.58 billion, the department said.
But Asian markets, which account for nearly a third of exports by Minnesota firms, were down 11 percent. Exports to China, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and India fell sharply, thanks in part to slackened demand for machinery for making semiconductors and equipment parts.
Surprisingly, in the European Union, where the economy is muddling along with a prolonged sovereign debt crisis, Minnesota exports grew by 6 percent. Robust sales in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany offset declines in the United Kingdom, Italy and Austria.
“Things are up and down, whether we’re talking about regions or markets,” said Ed Dieter, deputy director of the Minnesota Trade Office. “I think it just reflects the volatility in the world economy right now.”
One bright spot in the fourth quarter was Latin America. Sales in Brazil, until now a relatively untapped market for Minnesota businesses, rose 33 percent to make it the 14th-largest importer of Minnesota goods in the quarter. Growth there was mostly in sales of railway equipment.
Exports to Panama, Colombia and Argentina all rose by double digits as well.
Still, state officials would rather overall exports were rising faster. Gov. Mark Dayton announced a year ago an initiative designed to double exports from the Twin Cities by 2017.
To reach that goal, businesses in the metro area would have to increase exports at the brisk pace of nearly 15 percent per year.
On the agricultural side, sales of meat and grain to China and Japan fell dramatically, according to the department’s figures.
But Su Ye, economist at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said those figures can be misleading. The timing for ag purchases varies each year according to the harvest, herd size and other variables, she said.
“China is a really good example of irregular buying,” Ye said. “Especially meat production — there’s always a cycle.”
Because of that, the Department of Agriculture releases its export figures only once a year, and those won’t be available until later this year.
“We don’t report quarterly numbers; we only report annual,” Ye said. “We don’t want to give people heart attacks.”
Adam Belz • 612-673-4405 Twitter: @adambelz