Arkansas exports surged again in 2018, with $6.5 billion in trade that spanned 170 countries and reflected 12 percent growth since 2008, according to a newly released report by the World Trade Center Arkansas.

The state's top two customers, Canada and Mexico, respectively, remained strong compared to previous years, according to the report.

"Arkansas is one of the few states that consistently exports more than what it imports from its NAFTA partners in the recent years," Melvin Torres, the Center's director of Western Hemisphere trade, said in a news release.

"Arkansas' effective partnership with both countries has permitted this symbiotic and successful relationship," Torres added.

Exports to Canada amounted to $1.2 billion, while Mexico exports totaled $870 million — equaling over 32% of Arkansas' total exports.

Arkansas exports also flourished in Saudi Arabia, where growth increased by more than 400% thanks to a missile contract between the Middle Eastern country and Lockheed Martin's facility in Camden. This drove the country to become Arkansas' third-largest customer with $397 million in trade in 2018.

"The growth in a relatively untapped market reflects the diversity of Arkansas' economy," Torres said.

France, which received roughly $326 million in exported goods, followed by China with $307 million, round out Arkansas top five largest export markets for 2018.

Other findings in the report include:

• Arkansas trade-related jobs grew six times faster than total employment and paid up to 18% more than similar jobs at non-exporting firms.

• 26% of all jobs in Arkansas were supported by trade in 2018.

• The Western Hemisphere as a region continues to account for Arkansas' largest share of exports with over 44%, followed by Europe with 23% and China with over 21%. The Middle East region is the fourth-largest market with 9% of total Arkansas exports.

• Agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico increased farming sales for 38 percent of all agricultural exports.

• The state's largest export industries were in aerospace, defense and agriculture. Some of Arkansas' top exports included staples like civilian aircraft, defense, rice and poultry, along with engines and parts, paper, plastics and machinery.

• Arkansas exports continue to be boosted by small businesses, which accounted for roughly 80 percent of exporters.

"This report on Arkansas international trade and jobs incorporates the most comprehensive elements on our State's international commerce performance," Torres said.

To view the full economic report and learn more about how trade supports Arkansas, visit the World Trade Center Arkansas website.

Roxane Gomez, a trade specialist at the center, helped Torres compile the annual report.

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 trade promotion arm for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. For more information and valuable updates, follow the center on Facebook and Twitter or subscribe to the World Trade Center Arkansas newsletter.