Exports sent from Arkansas to Mexico have grown over 700 percent since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was enacted in 1994. Of those, agricultural exports have grown over 911 percent during the same period. To accomplish milestones such as these, trade delegations are necessary as they search for unique opportunities for companies to discuss trade and do business in key countries. The World Trade Centers Association (WTCA) provides these types of opportunities by hosting an ideal environment for businesses to participate in a trade mission. The recent WTCA General Assembly (GA) was the perfect opportunity for our delegates to do business in Mexico as there are close ties between Arkansas and Querétaro, such as the Arkansas State University Querétaro Campus.
When our first delegate arrived in Querétaro on Sunday, April 7th, I was filled with excitement, which lasted all throughout the week at this year’s GA. It was a gratifying feeling, resulting from months of logistics, communication strategies, and hard work that started back in December 2018.
Our initiative to bring a large delegation to this year’s GA started with our team emailing over 68,000 Arkansas-based companies, organizations, and media, inviting them to in-person meetings to explain the trade mission opportunities available at the event. Our goal was to connect these companies with international organizations that would develop into business agreements and connections. In December, alongside Carlos Uribe, the Chief Operating Officer at World Trade Center Querétaro, we went on a two-day roadshow through three different cities to meet with various companies who responded to our request, covering most of Arkansas. Accompanying us in this journey were the Consul General of Mexico, Rodolfo Quilantan Arenas; two student interns from the University of Arkansas; our Trade Support Assistant, Matthew Guzak; and our Director of Grants and Finance, Trish Watkins. As a result of our efforts, we brought the largest delegation to the GA with a total of 29 attendees and staff, and two speakers, and hosted a booth with multiple spaces for Arkansas companies to showcase their products and services at the Centro de Congresos of Querétaro.
On the first day of the GA, our Arkansas companies met with the Querétaro Secretary of Sustainable Development, the Secretary of Agricultural Development, the International Relations Coordinator, and the Director of Agriculture and Sustainable Development over breakfast. We then visited Safran Landing Systems and the Arkansas State University Querétaro Campus (ASU Querétaro) where we had a networking session with government officials from the municipality of Colon and various business-to-business (B2B) meetings with local companies. While the meetings were taking place, Dr. Nonis from ASU Jonesboro, who was part of our delegation, gave a lecture to students at the ASU Querétaro Campus. An additional intern from a university in Querétaro, Gerardo Coronado quickly became an integral member of our delegation by helping to coordinate and facilitate before and during our visit.
The next day, our companies attended the Trade Show and networked with other businesses and World Trade Centers from around the world during the event. We also had a couple of speakers participate in panel discussions including Co-Founder of Farmers for Free Trade, Angela Marshall Hofmann (who also happens to be a World Trade Center Arkansas Board Member); and Executive Director of the Arkansas Aerospace and Defense Alliance, Chad Causey. Coinciding with the panel discussions, we had different groups of delegates that held business meetings at Agra Park in Querétaro, and still others who held meetings at local businesses throughout Querétaro.
On the final day of the GA, we met with the Secretary of Agriculture and the President of Coparmex Querétaro — an organization that brings local businesses together and represents them at a governmental level — inviting them to bring along a delegation of farmers and businesses from Querétaro to visit Arkansas. By the end of the GA, our companies had met with dozens of local and international organizations, businesses, and government officials. Some of our companies were able to secure agreements with Mexican companies while others built strong connections with potential customers and distributors. We were able to achieve and even exceed our initial goal by learning about the local culture, interacting with people from around the world, and making new friends and connections. Additionally, the mix of delegates including Arkansas-based companies from different industries, professors, student interns, expert speakers, and even non-profit organizations, provided for a well-balanced and highly diverse group, making this the second largest trade delegation in the history of the World Trade Center Arkansas.
The GA now offers these terrific opportunities for Member World Trade Centers to invite trade delegations to this diverse networking event. But it takes a great deal of work and detailed planning to make them a success. Here are a few things to keep in mind as Members look to organize their own trade missions for next year’s meeting in Taipei, or for other opportunities outside of WTCA events:
- Have a solid company recruiting strategy.
- Engage companies by understanding their needs and matching them to the foreign market.
- Host multiple events for companies to network and conduct business-to-business meetings.
- Connect relevant panel speakers from your region, who are leaders in their field, with the GA host country.
- Facilitate meetings for companies with both government officials and private industry leaders.
About World Trade Center Arkansas
The mission of the World Trade Center Arkansas is to grow trade and increase Arkansas exports by connecting Arkansas businesses to the world through international trade services. The Center is part of the University of Arkansas and serves as the official trade promotion arm for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC).
For more information about our organization, please follow the World Trade Center Arkansas on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to the World Trade Center Arkansas newsletter.