Premier Shawn Graham arrived in Newfoundland and Labrador over the weekend for meetings he hopes will expand New Brunswick trade deeper into the United States.

Graham is taking part in a meeting of the Southeastern United States-Canadian Provinces Alliance. The group, made up of seven provinces and six southeastern states, aims to help U.S. and Canadian companies break into new markets on both sides of the border.

Graham said the event offers a chance to expand New Brunswick’s U.S. ties into the southern states, beyond the traditional New England market.

“We’re here to open the doors. This is a match-making exercise,” he said in an interview Sunday from St. John’s.

“We can never take this relationship for granted. That’s why we have to continue to strengthen those ties that unite us.”

Meetings and events kicked-off on Sunday and are scheduled to run until Tuesday.

Six local businesses and organizations are taking part in the trip: Associated Manufacturing Marketing Group; Belledune Port Authority; Enterprise Chaleur; Huntsman Marine Sciences Centre; SwiftRadius; and Number One Machining Ltd.

Founded in 2007, the Southeastern United States-Canadian Provinces Alliance consists of seven provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba), and six southeastern states (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee).

According to the provincial government, the southeastern U.S. represented about five per cent of New Brunswick’s total exports to the U.S. in 2008, and 16 per cent of its total imports from the U.S.

Conservative Opposition Leader David Alward said he welcomes efforts designed to develop new trade opportunities with the U.S., New Brunswick’s closest trading partner.

“Building close relationships is vitally important,” Alward said. “Especially right now when we see signs of growing American protectionism, which can only hurt our trading relationship with the U.S. in the long term.”