Minnesota's exports rose slightly in the third quarter, as companies expanded their business in China, Taiwan, Canada and Germany even as sales slowed in most of the rest of the world.

Companies in Minnesota sold $5.1 billion worth of products to the world in the three months that ended in September, up 1 percent from the same period in 2011, according to figures released Thursday by the Minnesota Trade Office. The figures do not include exports of services, a growing portion of Minnesota's global business reach.

Manufacturing accounted for $4.6 billion of the total. Medical exports accounted for $813 million, 19 percent growth over the same period last year.

"China and Europe, particularly countries outside the European Union, had the biggest export gains in the third quarter," said Ed Dieter, acting executive director of the state's trade office, in a statement. "China, our second-largest market, was especially strong, with sales up 16 percent from a year ago."

Foreign sales account for about 7.5 percent of Minnesota's economic output. The state's immediate neighbor to the north, Canada, remains the largest foreign market by far, accounting for about 30 cents of every export dollar.

China is second and growing fast. Despite news of a recent economic slowdown, exports to China grew 16 percent compared with last year. Sales in China were $632 million in the third quarter.

Sales in Taiwan rose 27 percent in the quarter, launching that country into the top 10 export markets on the strength of electrical machinery and non-electrical medical products.

Still, state officials would rather exports were growing faster. Gov. Mark Dayton announced in March 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.

Weakness in parts of Europe and Asia continues to weigh on Minnesota exporters.

Sales in the state's third- and fourth-largest markets, Mexico and Japan, fell 7 percent and 5 percent. Exports to Germany rose 4 percent despite the ongoing European economic crisis. No other major European economy posted a gain in the quarter.

Exports to South Korea fell 14 percent.

Adam Belz • 612-673-4405 Twitter: @adambelz