This commentary was written by John E. Parkerson Jr., an international attorney, honorary consul general of Hungary in Georgia and secretary of the Atlanta Consular Corps.
What’s less appreciated is how vital Georgia and the Southeast U.S. have become to these bilateral ties — and how a growing array of EU member states are recognizing this centrality by opening and later beefing up diplomatic missions in the state and region.
Atlanta is an unrivaled gateway city home to six EU career consulates, but many (often smaller) European Union member countries rely on 18 honorary consuls to get their trade, tourism and investment messages across, and to see to the affairs of their expatriates based here.
Honorary consuls are diplomats accredited by the U.S. State Department, but they’re often natives or longtime citizens of the state where they serve the country appointing them.
Take me, for example: although I was born and reside in Atlanta, I grew up in south Georgia never imagining that one day I would serve as honorary consul general for Hungary, a relatively small European country looking to navigate the ins and outs of its diverse economic sectors, from automotive to IT to agricultural trade. Hailing from Tifton doesn’t hurt when you’re talking about selling farm products.
Other EU-appointed honorary consuls are dispersed from Augusta to Atlanta and Macon to Marietta and points beyond. Geographically, Georgia hosts EU-member representations from Ireland and France form Europe’s west, to Bulgaria and Cyprus in the east; from Finland and Sweden in the north, to Italy and Malta to the south. Twenty-four of the 27 EU member states have representation in Georgia. Only Croatia, Slovakia and Portugal, which holds the soon-to-be-concluded presidency of the Council of the European Union, lack consular presence in the state.
With the recent close of international trade Month in May, it’s worth highlighting Georgia’s privileged position with regard to EU-member consular representation and how this fosters economic development.
Altogether, EU member countries represent a market of some 446 million Europeans according to the recent numbers cited earlier this month by the Consulate General of The Netherlands. Countries comprising some 96 percent of this population are covered by consular representations in Georgia – 195 million people covered by the six career consulates and 232 million covered by honorary consulates.
This is a staggering market for Georgia firms, and even many firms already availing themselves of Europe’s business opportunities may be unaware how consulates in their own backyard can become conduits for policy clarity, trade delegations and business relationships. Honorary consulates have in certain cases helped pave the way for countries to open full diplomatic missions, as in the case of India, Brazil and more recently, The Netherlands — the newest career consulate in Georgia.
The EU countries represented in Georgia account for approximately $10 billion of Georgia’s $38.8 billion in goods exports worldwide in 2020, and law firms like mine and other service providers add billions of dollars more in services exports, rounding out a multidimensional U.S.-EU partnership that also carries important implications for global security and technical standards.
As we near the mid-point of 2021, initial trade news portends continuing growth in bilateral trade between Georgia and the EU.
Most of the credit rightly goes to the internationally active companies — especially European subsidiaries in Georgia — that have navigated a rapidly changing global trade environment throughout tariff uncertainties and a pandemic that has curtailed transatlantic travel. They demonstrate daily to their parent companies in Europe and elsewhere the benefits of healthy bilateral trade with Georgia.
But the state also benefits from a deep and diverse diplomatic corps committed to bridging global opportunities with the state and communities where they serve.
John E. Parkerson Jr. is the honorary consul general of Hungary in Georgia and secretary of the Atlanta Consular Corps. He serves as of counsel at Hall Booth Smith, P.C.
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