The British Are Coming…For Trade

This week’s Courier Herald column:

One of the benefits of writing about Georgia politics is the opportunities this affords to meet people of different backgrounds I’d likely otherwise not come into contact with.  Sometimes the meetings are by chance, and other times they are set with a bit of purpose.

Last week I and several other members of Georgia’s business and political press were invited to the British Consulate for a two-way conversation about trade.  The U.S. and European Union are currently negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP.  The motivation behind TTIP is that if Europe and the US could reach standardization on many of their manufacturing and agricultural regulations, the basis would create a standard for such a large percentage of the world’s economy that most other markets would likely adopt their products for ease of sale in all world markets.

There are already significant commercial ties between the US and Britain.  Roughly one million jobs exist in each country due to foreign investment from the other.  There are also partnerships.  Atlanta based Delta airlines now owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic airlines.

Georgians would see a direct benefit if Europe would accept U.S. processing standards for chicken, Georgia’s largest agricultural commodity.  Uniform standards for automotive production would allow for ease of export for U.S. cars produced in the Southeast and shipped abroad through Georgia’s ports, as well as increased traffic for European cars headed here.

The proposed tariffs to be eliminated on US goods range from 10% on autos, 12% on most clothing items, and as high as 17% on shoes.  Georgia’s exports, as a result, would be expected to grow by more than one third to European customers.

Then there’s the business of trade itself.  The estimated increase in trade between the US and Europe would mean more shipping.  That’s good for more than Georgia’s ports in Savannah and Brunswick.  Georgia based UPS would likely see an increase in volume of over 130 Million packages over the next decade, supporting 24,000 jobs.

The conversation presented more than an opportunity to talk the benefits of increased trade, and afforded a chance to discuss the commercial ties between Georgia and Great Britain.  It provided a glimpse of how others see us – what we’re doing well, and while the conversation was thoroughly respectful and polite, some areas where Georgia may wish to continue to refine our focus.

Georgia has an international image of competitiveness.  The recent investment from Britain’s Pinewood Studios in Fayette County was cited as an example of how quickly a project can be constructed here.  From concept to zoning approval to permitting to construction, Pinewood has been a project that has been executed swiftly and with little interruption from bureaucracy.

The diversity of Georgia’s commercial base was also cited as a plus.  Other hubs of commerce within the US seem more specialized.  Georgia offers a one stop shop of high tech, communications, film, and manufacturing, among other industries that may attract additional international investment.

Conversely, however, it was suggested that Georgia may need to work on its branding.  While we have a lot to offer, that is not always readily apparent to those who may wish to consider us for a project.  Furthermore, where we offer that is also not always a complete picture.  “Georgia” largely means “Atlanta” and “Savannah” in most contexts that were discussed.

Georgia’s scientific resources were noted with respect to our universities, but a hint was provided that we may want to investigate how Boston is fostering its biotech community.  College students are more seamlessly attracted into communities of entrepreneurship upon graduation in our northern competitor.  While Georgia is viewed to have a very positive entrepreneurial start up environment, there seems to be more institutional structure provided there to buttress those willing to go it alone in lieu of seeking employment from a large corporation or research institution.

All in all, Georgia provides a strong image that the state is open for business.  We offer logistical infrastructure such as a world class airport and efficient and growing ports.  We have a demonstrated willingness to accommodate and execute plans for new industry.

We also have a willing trade partner with many similarities and shared goals.  As such, Georgians should urge their members of Congress to work expeditiously to finalize a TTIP agreement that works for all.

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