ATLANTA -- Gov. Roy Barnes aims for Georgia's deep-water ports in Savannah and Brunswick along with the world's busiest airport in Atlanta to become doorways to added economic devel opment through increased in ternational trade.
Latin America represents Georgia's best potential for boosting that trade, Barnes recently told U.S. ambassadors to South America.
"Those guys in Savannah don't care if they unload or load those boats," he said, noting that imports can be just as valuable to the state as exports. "For many reasons, we know it is imperative that we reach out aggressively to the world."
"International trade leads to international investment in both directions," said Carlos Martel, deputy commissioner for international trade with the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade & Tourism.
That investment comes in the form of offshore factories and sales offices that bring jobs. For example, in the 10 years Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines has offered non-stop flights between Tokyo and Portland, Ore., 33 Japanese companies set up their American headquarters in Oregon.
"When you've got direct access, an increase in trade automatically follows," said Charlene Kennedy, Delta manager of government affairs in charge of securing new routes.
Since starting non-stop flights between Atlanta and Brazil two years ago, trade between the two regions has increased 400 percent, she said.
Former President Jimmy Carter led the state's first trade mission south of Mexico when he journeyed to Brazil as governor in the early 1970s. Now the state has an office there to facilitate trade between Latin America and Georgia, and requests for help are on the rise.
Barnes has already begun searching for more trade by meeting with every consul general based in Atlanta. And he has lobbied the Clinton administration to remove trade restrictions on Latin American countries because he says Georgians have seen the benefits of trade since the North American Free Trade Act was passed in 1993.
Despite the loss of 27,000 Georgia apparel jobs after NAFTA's passage, Barnes and many economists trumpet the state's gains from the treaty that removed all trade barriers between Mexico, Canada and the United States.
But not everyone agrees.
"Worse yet, the jobs we have lost are in largely rural areas where people have the greatest difficulty finding new work," said U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., in a March newspaper column.
"I have been meeting with members of the House from both parties who are willing to look at what's happening to our economy with open eyes. I am meeting with local and national business leaders who do not march in lock step with the global-market lobby -- business people who recognize what the long-term impact of these policies will be on both their industries and the nation, instead of just short-term profit eering," he wrote.
Clinton officials admit they still have some selling to do to convince congressmen like Norwood and voters that he should have authority to negotiate more liberal trade treaties.
"The success of NAFTA has not percolated to the constituent base," said U.S. Ambassador to Uruguay Christopher Ashby during a recent Atlanta trade seminar. …