Ric Hubler, left, director of global business growth, Metro Atlanta Chamber, and Pedro Reis, chairman and CEO of aicep.

With Portugal’s unemployment rate anticipated to climb to more than 16 percent in 2014 along with rising national debt and higher taxes, can Europe’s Florida continue to endure yet another year of austerity measures?

The question didn’t come up at a Metro Atlanta Chamber presentation on Oct. 17 by officials of aicep Portugal Global, the country’s trade and investment agency.

Instead, Pedro Reis, aicep’s chairman and CEO, called the austerity measures to which his country has adhered for the past three years as the basis “for a new economy, a new model and a new structure.”

Ric Hubler, the chamber’s director of global business growth, began the afternoon meeting announcing that Georgia’s exports to Portugal had jumped 75 percent last year from 2010. From 2010-11, exports to Portugal increased by 21 percent to nearly $198 million. 

“We have common interests with Portugal,” Mr. Hubler told Global Atlanta. “We want to build up our trans-Atlantic trade and we are involved in some of the same important economic sectors.”

He is positive about increasing trade with Portugal in Georgia’s goods from its automotive, aerospace and pulp and paper sectors.

In addition, he said Portugal is developing its information and communications technologies and its biotech industry, both of which also are important to Georgia.

Mr. Reis and the agency administrator and CFO, Pedro Pereira Goncalves, argued forcefully in favor of the reforms to secure the future health of Portugal’s economy.

“We are forcing the changes that we have to and which we have postponed for too long,” Mr. Reis said. “Portugal has had too much debt, anemic growth. We need more transparency and competition, changes in our labor laws and privatization of some industries.”

“The strict adjustments will fix the economic situation in two or three years,” he added.

Mr. Pereira cited a list of financial, fiscal and job creation incentives that should attract more foreign direct investment that would help the country’s economy.

Whether the Portuguese population will acquiesce for this period remains to be seen. But the officials made the best case they could for Portugal’s competitive advantages in the 21st century.

Mr. Hubler also is optimistic about the opportunities for trade, investment and partnerships linking Georgia to Portugal, which has several ports including that of Sines, the deepest European port.

“We should be able to develop strong port-to-port relations with the Portuguese ports,” he told Global Atlanta. “There are possibilities for Brunswick as well as Savannah.”

During the presentation, Mr. Reis cited the benefit of having a port such as that of the city of Sines, which is naturally deep enough to accommodate the largest vessels coming through the Panama Canal.

Having such a deep port also provides a competitive advantage because it doesn’t require the enormous sums for dredging that have to be paid for by other ports seeking to attract the largest vessels, he said, saving funds for other improvements.

Mr. Hubler pointed to Portugal’s strengths in the development of alternative energies as providing opportunities for partnerships with Georgia firms.

In the past decade the Portuguese government has made a concerted effort to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, which are scarce in Portugal, and develop the means of harnessing its plentiful sunshine and wind. It also has increased its dependence on hydropower from its rivers and ocean waves.

More than half of its energy now is derived from alternative sources, a giant leap forward since it launched this initiative.

The officials came with handouts promoting the reasons to invest in Portugal that included a well-educated workforce, the quality of its logistics as well as its road, airport and seaport infrastructure and its competitive costs.

“Privileged historical, cultural and economic relations with Portuguese speaking countries” is ranked as the fourth most important reason to invest in Portugal.

But in the future, it may be much more important, according to the officials and Mr. Hubler.

Historic ties with more than 200 million Portuguese speakers on four continents including in the countries of Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Brazil and East Timor provide it with future opportunities still to be realized.

“These relations should play an important role in the future,” Mr. Hubler agreed.

Portugal also plans to increase its tourist promotion, which has traditionally been a major revenue earner for the country and occasionally earning it the moniker “Europe’s Florida,” the officials said.