SAVANNAH, Ga. – When Charles Shapiro was in town last summer, he had a simple illustration of what a free trade agreement with Colombia would mean for U.S. business.
With a bag of coffee in one hand and a can of Pringles potato chips in the other, the White House senior adviser for Economic Initiatives for the Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau pointed out the inequity.
“This bag of Colombian coffee comes into our country duty free,” he said. “But the company in Tennessee that makes Pringles has to pay a 20 percent duty on every can they send to Colombia.”
Colombia, Shapiro said, is an emerging economy with a growing middle class and a hankering for such U.S. commodities as snack foods.
“There’s already a good market for Pringles there,” he said. “Imagine how much more could be sold if they were 20 percent cheaper.”
Shapiro doesn’t have to imagine any longer. Last month, Congress passed, and the president signed into law, free trade pacts with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. The agreements, in the works for five years, are expected to raise exports by $13 billion and create tens of thousands of U.S. jobs.
As the second-busiest exporting port in the country, Savannah should reap benefits, too. Overall, exports accounted for 53 percent of the ports’ total containerized cargo, growing by 12 percent in the past fiscal year. For fiscal 2011, the port moved nearly 9 percent of all U.S. containerized cargo and 12.5 percent of the nation’s containerized exports.
“Passage of the free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia will have a direct impact on Georgia’s ports and the state’s important agricultural sector,” said Curtis J. Foltz, the executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.
“The improved access to the Republic of Korea’s $1 trillion economy and 49 million consumers alone will drive increased demand for U.S. exports – most of which will become duty-free immediately – helping to drive economic recovery through international trade.”
Poultry was the fastest-growing export commodity from Savannah to South Korea, more than quadrupling from 2009 to 2010, Foltz said, adding that it has the potential for significant additional growth as a result of the new agreement.
Those anticipated benefits will spread all the way to the state capital and beyond, where 1,500 port-related jobs and $295 million in investment were created in the Atlanta region alone in fiscal 2011.
More than $9.5 billion worth of cargo was shipped through the Port of Savannah on behalf of businesses in Metro Atlanta counties, a growth of 18 percent over the previous fiscal year.
At the October State of the Ports meeting in Atlanta, Gov. Nathan Deal, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Foltz spoke about the ports’ impact on jobs and commerce, their importance to the Southeast’s economic future and the need to deepen the port.
“Deepening of the Savannah port helps to secure Georgia’s economic future as the capital of the Southeast by creating jobs and positioning the state to become the logistics hub of the Western hemisphere,” Reed said.
“The single-most important factor to ensuring future success, creating jobs and maintaining the fastest-growing port in the nation, remains the completion of the Savannah harbor expansion project,” he said.
The expansion of the Panama Canal in 2014 will significantly lower the cost per container by allowing larger ships to pass through. Delivering decreased cost per container will help lower the bottom line for the 21,000 U.S. businesses that already import or export cargo through Georgia’s ports, Foltz said.