Georgia small businesses are well-positioned to take advantage of free trade agreements being negotiated between the United States and various countries, including Panama and several southern African nations, said Gregory Walters, director of small business affairs at the Office of the United States Trade Representative.
Mr. Walters joined representatives from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a TradeRoots seminar last week aimed at informing Atlantans about current and future free trade agreements.
“Georgia has unique opportunities to take advantage of free trade because it has the largest airport in the world, good ties to Africa and Central and South America. It’s a banking capital, and its transportation infrastructure is excellent,” Mr. Walters told GlobalAtlanta during the seminar, which took place at the SunTrust Atrium downtown.
Negotiations are underway for bilateral free trade agreements with the Andean countries (Colombia, Ecuador and Peru), Bahrain, Oman, Panama, the South Africa Customs Union countries (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland), Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.
Free trade agreements already in place or approved include those with Australia, Cafta countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua), Canada, Chile, Israel, Jordan, Mexico, Morocco and Singapore.
“We select trade partners that are willing to enter into a comprehensive agreement, not just for market entry,” Mr. Walters said, noting that the countries must be willing to agree to certain labor and environmental standards and must have potential for commercial viability and large-scale development.
Agreements can also have political as well as economic agendas, he added. The pending agreements with Bahrain and the UAE are steps to help fight terrorism and create a regional Middle East free trade area, while the future agreement with the SACU countries in Africa could be a stepping-stone to a continent-wide integration process, he said.
Mr. Walters asserted that the U.S. is not seeking to begin any new free trade agreements until the current ones are in place. He added that his office is working to reinvigorate the Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations, noting that Nafta and Cafta, which already encompass two-thirds of the countries in the hemisphere, are steps toward the FTAA.
For more information on how businesses can take advantage of current free trade agreements, visit www.ustr.gov or contact Mr. Walters at (202) 395-6120.