Arizona business leaders and government officials attended the World Trade Forum in Scottsdale last week to discuss the past year’s international trade impact on the U.S. and Arizona in particular. Panelists were Director of U.S. Commercial Service Eric Nielsen, City of Phoenix Councilman Bill Gates and Senior Vice President of Business Attraction at Arizona Commerce Authority Keith Watkins. These speakers provided an overview of how to move forward and learn from progress made in international trade in 2012. Taking away the positive impacts of last year, many trade experts would agree that the agenda going forward should include continuing long-established relations with Canada and having a good comprehension of the legal impacts associated with going abroad. Among several challenges facing the new year, trade professionals are looking to find new exporting avenues and solutions to get clients’ wealth out of China and into the U.S. In addition, developing better relations with Mexico will allow for greater access to key markets. On a local level, city leaders and business owners are keen on continuing economic recovery in Arizona. Arizona’s exporting performance of 4.3% through the 3rd quarter of last year is below the national average of increased exports of 5%. “The saying ‘if you build it, they will come’ is unrealistic in regards to global trade,” says Brett W. Johnson, Snell & Wilmer partner and moderator of the World Trade Forum. Therefore, in an effort to serve as a conduit for local networks to conduct business overseas, several Arizona companies in collaboration with their partners have developed trade missions, webinars and workshops to guide small and medium sized exporters in the state in penetrating new markets. The success of these programs has been significant given that companies who were previously exporting in 1 or 2 markets are now involved in dozens of new markets. Some of the most successful trade missions were a result of outreach to Mexico. Mexico was hardest hit by the economy in 2009, but the country saw a year of growth in 2012. Analysts predict that Mexico could become the 5th largest economy by 2050. As “combined imports and exports account for 69% of GDP”, Eric Nielsen, Director of the Arizona U.S. Export Assistance Center, would argue that Mexico is gaining so much momentum in that it can almost be compared to China. The new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, aims to achieve 6% economic growth every year during his 6-year term. Arizona companies and those throughout the U.S. at large might be wise to follow industry giants such as Siemens, Aerospace, Nissan, Audi, and Rolls-Royce, all of whom have entered into this growing market. Nielsen believes taking on monopolies in Mexico is a good move since the neighboring country is the most competitive for goods manufactured in North America. Another achievement in the last year has been the implementation of the AZ STEP (State Trade and Export Promotion) program. STEP has been a success in engaging small companies in international trade. Companies exporting for the first time were able to tap into markets in Australia, Canada, Germany, Mexico and the UK. Given the prosperity for small businesses, panelists at the World Trade Forum agree that a global mindset should be encouraged among all Arizona businesses, regardless of size. 155 of the 1100+ companies involved in the AZ STEP increased their sales in 2012. Some were even able to achieve sales in excess of $12 million. Councilman Bill Gates says the Valley has several advantages that make for good trade positioning. Most significantly, international flights at Sky Harbor International Airport have a $1.1 billion direct impact and a $3 billion total impact. Each flight through British Airways has a $3.8 million impact on local economy. Gates sees the greatest potential in Asia and Korea, specifically. Thus, he hopes international flights will be expanded to include service to areas such as Tokyo and Beijing. Bioscience healthcare, solar technology, manufacturing and business services are all areas in which Phoenix is thriving. In addition, the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, ranked number 1 for international business by Bloomberg Businessweek last year, is a top producer of business students. These students add value to the workforce, and the goal is to keep graduates in Arizona. Arizona is making progress, but still has some issues to tackle. Trade prospects’ image of the state is crucial in developing better relationships, gaining more business, and becoming one of the top 10 exporting states. The consensus among these panelists is that a commitment from city leaders, consistently acquiring a talented workforce and efforts towards a better image campaign are all important in this endeavor.