Minnesota's manufactured exports rose 2 percent to $5 billion in the first quarter, though sales to its two biggest markets faltered.

The uptick alleviated worries that the increasingly critical export market might falter as it did during several months last year.

Sales to Minnesota's top trading partner, Canada, fell 12 percent to $1.2 billion as orders lagged for mineral fuels, machinery, beverages, ore and vehicle parts, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) said Thursday.

Companies such as snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle maker Arctic Cat recently reported that 30 percent of their revenues were negatively affected by Canada's difficult currency exchange rates. Company officials said the problematic currency translation rate is expected to hurt that company for the rest of this year. But it was not clear from the report by DEED if other companies have similar concerns about Canada.

Minnesota's second-largest trading partner, China, also bought less during the first quarter. Exports to China fell 2 percent to $523 million.

On the upside, Mexico, Japan, ­Belgium, Germany and Australia gobbled up Minnesota goods at a hearty rate, with percentages increasing from 23 percent to 49 percent from the first quarter of last year.

Mexico, which is Minnesota's third-largest trading partner, bought $433 million worth of goods, up 49 percent. That increase was driven by an uptick in demand for Minnesota-made machinery, vehicle components and electrical equipment.

Exports have become an increasing part of Minnesota's economy and helped boost the state's beleaguered manufacturing sector during and after the Great Recession.

State and civic leaders have pushed small- and medium-size businesses to consider selling their goods overseas and have set up teams to assist them in exploring possible market opportunities. In several cases state officials have set up satellite trade offices in other countries to help Minnesota businesses more easily make connections.

"Minnesota exporters saw strong gains in our traditional markets during the first quarter," DEED Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben said in a statement. "But they also made headway into newer markets for Minnesota products, with exports growing 11 percent in the Middle East and 16 percent in the Australia-Pacific region."