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West Virginia, Peru partnership strong

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Peruvian Ambassador Harold Forsyth were all smiles Thursday. They signed a ceremonial agreement to continue seeking partnerships between West Virginia and Peru, where local businesses sent $13 million worth of products in 2013.

During a lunch Thursday at the Culture Center, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin took a break to snap a selfie with the Peruvian ambassador to the United States.

Recent export trends could be the reason for the broad grins on the faces of Tomblin and Ambassador Harold Forsyth.

Last year West Virginia businesses sold $13 million worth of products and services to Peru, said Caitlin Ashley, an international trade representative with the state’s Department of Commerce. That’s up from $6 million the year before.

“It’s definitely a market that’s worth the attention of West Virginia exporters for sure,” Ashley said.

Peru ranked fifth last year for South American purchasers of West Virginia products. While its investment paled in comparison to the more than half a billion dollars spent by Brazilian consumers, Ashley said the small country’s commitment to international business has grown considerably since about 2002.

Tomblin and Forsyth signed a “memorandum of understanding,” a relatively ceremonial agreement the governor said signifies a continued desire for the state and the country to continue working together.

“Today’s signing of a joint memorandum of understanding with the Republic of Peru reaffirms our partnership and strengthens our commitment to developing mutually beneficial initiatives to support economic development efforts, trade and business relations, disaster preparedness and academic partnerships,” Tomblin said in a statement.

The four-page document outlines common goals and areas where both can work together for improvement, including education, “adventure tourism,” natural disaster management and “mining safety.”

Peru’s economy, like others in South America, relies in part on mining. They mine coal and other minerals. Those mines require the right machinery, some of which come from West Virginia.

“There’s a lot of potential in South America for West Virginia products,” Ashley said.

About $1 million of exports from West Virginia to Peru last year represents mining machinery, she said. Coal itself represents the bulk of the exports, almost $7 million; Ashley said the industry does its own work building relationships in foreign countries.

The state steps in to help facilitate purchases of machinery, plastics and other products. While established markets like Canada or the United Kingdom are typically better for new international investments, Ashley said more experienced businesses are looking to Peru and other emerging markets for trade partners.

Thursday’s agreement encourages such international relationships, calling for West Virginia and Peru to promote joint trade activities that could foster exports or other business partnerships.

Ashley will soon embark on a state-sponsored trip with several West Virginia businesses to South American countries.

West Virginia is helping to pay for a roughly week-long trip for five businesses to South America: the trip starts in Colombia with potential stops in Panama, Ecuador, Chile or Peru. The businesses — Ashley declined to provide the names — are four manufacturers and a service provider that represent mining, automotive and “general industry” sectors.

After attending a larger business conference in Bogota, Colombia, the companies can meet with senior commercial officers from all over South America and Latin America, Ashley said. Those officers help facilitate meetings one-on-one with potential clients, with companies able to choose the number of meetings they’d like to have or countries they’d like to visit.

“From there, it’s the company’s responsibility to continue to grow and build on their relationship in the context that they need,” Ashley said.

She said she didn’t know how much the trip would cost the state until they came back, and declined to provide a ballpark estimate. The companies pay for their travel expenses, while the state covers about half of the cost for attending the conferences and facilitating business meetings. Other regional and federal entities can chip away at costs, too, so that small businesses have the opportunity to expand abroad, she said.

“It’s going to be an exciting mission,” Ashley said.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or Follow him at

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