Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez promoted free trade as a means of expanding Georgia’s exports during a July 21 visit to Savannah.

In a guest column published in the Savannah Morning News the day of his visit, Mr. Gutierrez elicited support for the passage of free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

The three agreements have been negotiated and signed by President Bush, but must pass Congress before being implemented.

Mr. Gutierrez wrote that Georgia exports have grown 62 percent over the last five years to $23 billion in 2007, adding that free trade between the U.S. and three more countries provides opportunities for further export growth.

Port officials toured the facilities with Mr. Gutierrez and held a joint press conference on the benefits of trade.

Doug Marchand, the Georgia Ports Authority’s executive director, said that exports provide an important boost to Georgia’s economy in lean times.

“Our exports now outnumber imports,” he said. “Record volume for Georgia’s exports is key to helping our nation’s fourth-largest container port weather the current economic storm.”

Savannah Congressman Jack Kingston also joined Mr. Gutierrez at the port’s Garden City Terminal. Mr. Kingston told GlobalAtlanta in a previous interview that past free trade agreements provide evidence that such deals facilitate export growth.

Mr. Gutierrez emphasized the importance of the Colombia deal in the editorial and his remarks at the conference. He said that 92 percent of Colombian goods already enter the U.S. duty-free, while U.S. products entering the South American nation face tariffs, endangering America’s competitiveness in certain industries.

The president tried to set a 60-day timetable for a Congressional vote on the Colombia agreement in April, but the move was blocked by a House of Representatives vote on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recommendation.

Ms. Pelosi said she opposed voting on the agreement at that time because further negotiation is necessary to protect U.S. jobs, reduce violence against Colombian trade officials and secure the votes to pass it.

Both the Bush administration and Ms. Pelosi have said that not passing the deal would risk weakening a key South American ally.

Mr. Gutierrez and State Department official Charles Shapiro have made numerous trips to Georgia in recent months promoting free trade, hoping to pass the deals before the next president takes office. Mr. Shapiro visited Atlanta July 14 promoting the three pending agreements.