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N.C. Exporting on the Rise

A Duke conference on NAFTA examines the Tar Heel state's role in global manufacturing

North Carolina must increase its capacity both in manufacturing and as a leading knowledge economy to remain competitive in a global supply chain dominated by giants like China and India, experts said this week at Duke.

This examination was part of a panel discussion during “NAFTA@20: The Future of North American Competitiveness,” a conference examining the North American Free Trade Agreement, now 20 years old.

The North Carolina panel featured Gary Gereffi, director of Duke’s Center on Globalization, Governance and Competitiveness, and Jean Davis of Raleigh-based Economic Leadership, LLC. Frances Selema, senior international trade specialist for the United States Commercial Service in Raleigh, moderated the panel.

A few tidbits emerged:

• North Carolina exported $30 billion in products and services to 14 different markets around the world in 2013, with exports increasing during the past five years and projected to continue increasing.

• North Carolina is one of the top 10 states in terms of the quantity of manufactured goods produced, with significant shares in the home furniture, tobacco, biotech and aerospace markets.

• A new direct shipping route from the port of Wilmington to the port of Cortes in Honduras will boost North Carolinian shipments of yarn and thread to Central America above its exports to China -- a further indication that NAFTA is helping both North Carolina and Central American economies.

Gereffi said NAFTA will continue to be an asset to North Carolina as it creates more high-wage, smaller-workforce service sector jobs – such as here in high-tech industries -- alongside its lower-wage manufacturing workforce, as the treaty gives the state easier access to markets around the continent.

"There are always winners and losers in global supply chains," Gereffi said. "But free trade agreements like NAFTA can only help economies like North Carolina's grow stronger."