BILLINGS – Ambassadors from five countries and U.S. Sen. Max Baucus launched a three-day trade tour across Montana on Thursday to announce export deals and promote business ties.
The tour includes the ambassadors of Colombia, South Korea, Brazil, Vietnam and Australia.
They started at MRL Equipment Co. of Billings, where executives recently inked a $1.5 million contract to sell road striping equipment to a South Korean company.
In Lewistown, the Colombian ambassador said he was buying cattle from a local ranch, and officials announced that Spika Welding and Manufacturing was selling $530,000 worth of military helicopter maintenance equipment to the Australian government.
Baucus, a Democrat, said such deals underscore the benefits of recent U.S. trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea that eliminated import tariffs. Australia has had a free trade agreement with the U.S. since 2005.
For MRL, the agreements mean the company’s customer in South Korea won’t have to pay an extra 8 percent tariff, or about $120,000 on top of the sales price for the road striping equipment, said MRL Vice President Steven Shinners. That makes MRL’s products more competitive in the country, Shinners said.
South Korea is Montana’s second largest export destination after Canada. In 2011, the bulk of those exports were from shipments of Montana coal and other raw materials worth an estimated $137 million.
But the country’s ambassador, Young-jin Choi, said Thursday that the MRL contract points to the potential for more trade in higher-value manufactured goods. He added that partnerships with Korean companies could also open the door for Montana businesses in other parts of Asia.
Colombian Ambassador Gabriel Silva, a rancher, said he was buying 50 cattle from the McMillan ranch outside Lewistown.
Colombia is pursuing a program to double the number of cattle in the country over the next five years, in part with livestock from places like Montana, Silva said. That’s because more beef is being eaten after the average income in Colombia doubled over the last decade.
“This is to open the door and show that it’s feasible,” Silva said.
The ambassadors planned additional stops in White Sulphur Springs, Bozeman, Livingston and Yellowstone National Park.
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