Thu., October 13, 2011 5:25pm (EDT)

Georgia Debates Trade Deals
By Orlando Montoya
Updated: 3 years ago

SAVANNAH, Ga.  —  
Johnny Isakson was among the Republicans who voted for free trade agreements with Columbia, Korea and Panama.  (photo US Senate)
Johnny Isakson was among the Republicans who voted for free trade agreements with Columbia, Korea and Panama. (photo US Senate)
Georgia Republicans and some business groups are hailing Congressional passage of free trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama.

Georgia sends the countries a combined $1.1 billion in exports.

Georgia leads the nation in exports of washing machines to Colombia, oil seeds to South Korea and tanning dyes to Panama.

Among other items, Georgia chemicals, machines and transportation equipment could be the most boosted by lower tariffs.

They represent some of the state's largest exports to Colombia, Korea and Panama.

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson says, the deals will create tens of thousands of American jobs without adding to the national debt.

"These three free trade agreements are good examples of solutions that will boost the economy and put Americans back to work without adding to our enormous national debt," Isakson says. "These trade agreements will increase U.S. exports of goods and services by $13 billion annually and will positively impact Georgia agriculture."

But Democrats and some labor unions are skeptical.

They say, forecasts of more exports because of lower tariffs will be offset by job losses because of cheaper labor in the three countries.

The labor-backed Economic Policy Institute says, the Korea deal alone will cost 159,000 jobs over the next seven years.

Georgia AFL-CIO President Richard Ray says, the proof is in the factories that shut down after Congress passed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993.

"When NAFTA was created, we had many small towns around Middle Georgia, South Georgia, North Georgia that produced clothing," Ray says. "All those factories basically are gone."

Democrats Sanford Bishop and David Scott voted only for the Panama agreement.

All of Georgia's other Democrats voted against all three deals.

US Representative John Barrow says, the effects of NAFTA were a factor in his decision.

"We are promised that free trade agreements will bring tremendous job growth and prosperity to everyone here in America," Barrow says. "But after passage, we are confronted with a crushing reality of more job losses when companies outsource our jobs overseas."

Georgia's Congressional Republicans gave the deals unanimous approval.