In an interview with Morris News Service in his Marietta office, Isakson said he’s convinced enough of his fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate to agree to conditions President Barack Obama set before submitting the agreements to Congress for ratification. He predicted Senate votes sometime in October.
The free-trade agreements, which would lower tariffs and other trade barriers, have been negotiated and signed with South Korea, Colombia and Panama and await submission to Congress. The Korean agreement, for example, was signed in 2007 before Obama was elected.
The U.S. Trade Representative calls the Korean pact, “the United States’ most commercially significant free-trade agreement in more than 16 years.”
For Georgia, it’s impact would be an economic boost at a time when one could come in handy, Isakson said. He estimated $1.5 billion in exports of pecans, beef and other agricultural products since Korea is the state’s fifth-largest market for farm exports. The agreement will also open the door to sales of services like Aflac’s insurance sales to Japan that were made possible by a similar agreement.
“That means real jobs and real income to Georgians,” the senator said. “It’s just a shame that the politics of free trade has kept us from acting on those agreements.”
Bryan Tolar, president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council, figures Georgia is well positioned to take advantage of the agreements.
“Georgia has the right resources, environment and technology to produce a wide variety of agricultural products that have value and improve lives all across the globe,” he said. “Expanding foreign markets to move these products helps support Georgia, especially rural communities, and strengthens the entire U.S. economy.”
Because proximity to Colombia and Panama, the state should have success marketing its top exports of cotton, poultry and peanuts, notes Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.
“Typical American snack foods are highly desired in Korea,” he said. “Our processed food and specialty food producers will greatly benefit from the lowering of tariffs on these items.”
Obama has held up sending the agreements to Congress because he wants to package them with a bill to provide added assistance to workers whose jobs are shipped overseas.
Isakson said he’s spent the time getting conservatives to go along.
“I have agreed to support that coming to the floor provided the president will agree to let the free-trade agreements come to the floor,” he said. “There are enough Republicans who’ll do the same where I think, come October, everyone is going to be surprised at how much there is to debate when it comes to trade because I believe we’re this close to breaking them loose.”
The White House did not immediately respond with a comment Monday, but in June Press Secretary Jay Carney said the Trade Adjustment Assistance was central to the legislative deal.
“The president embraces these critical elements of TAA needed to ensure that workers have the best opportunity to get good jobs that keep them in the middle class,” Carney said.
Isakson said the Republicans have agreed to vote on the TAA first, before taking up the three trade agreements separately.
“That’s huge for the economy; that’s huge for jobs,” he said.