Report: New trade pact boon for S.C. exports

BMW exported 301,519 South Carolina-made vehicles last year. It shipped many of those automobiles through the Port of Charleston’s Columbus Street Terminal (above).

South Carolina’s automotive and chemical manufacturers are expected to be among the nation’s biggest gainers from a proposed trade deal between the United States and Europe.

That could also mean thousands of jobs added in the Palmetto State, according to some findings in a report released Tuesday by the Atlantic Council.

The Washington-based policy group offered a state-by-state look at the economic impact of a new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The open trade agreement, which would include changing tariffs and regulations, is being discussed by policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The agency’s report predicts the trade policy would boost a state’s annual exports to Europe an average of 33 percent by 2027.

But South Carolina could see growth well above that. The report predicts the pact could grow exports to Europe by 187 percent and result in a net gain of 10,160 workers.

Twenty-nine percent, or $7.4 billion, of all the state’s exports in 2012 and $1.3 billion in services in 2011 went to Europe, according to the study.

The state’s largest export growth includes an estimated $27.3 billion gain in automobiles and $615 million in chemicals.

Motor vehicles, in general, are expected to be the top sector for export growth in almost half of the states, many of them in the South.

“States that are already integrated with a supply chain with the Transatlantic already have the running start,” said Damon Wilson, executive vice president of the Atlantic Council. “That’s where South Carolina structures in with BMW and others.”

BMW, which makes sport utility vehicles at its Greer plant in the Upstate, exported 301,519 vehicles in 2012 and shipped many of those through the Port of Charleston. The company plans to increase annual capacity to 350,000 by end of 2014, said spokesman Sky Foster.

“As we approach 20 years of vehicle production, we intend to continue our path of sustainable growth and significant economic impact for South Carolina,” Foster said.

South Carolina also houses it share of chemical companies, including BP Cooper River plant near Cainhoy.

In the United States, adoption of the trade agreement will have to be decided by Congress, which could have some issues with intellectual property rights, market access and regulatory matters, according to a July report by The Congressional Research Service.

The Atlantic Council’s 75-page study comes as Charleston and other East Coast port cities are battling for more business with Asian countries to offset slower growth from European nations that are weathering severe economic woes.

S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt lauded the Atlantic Council report, noting the state’s “strong track record on foreign direct investment by European companies.”

“Strengthening our trade ties with Europe would be a big economic boon for businesses in the state,” he said. “The (European Union) nations today represent a significant exporting market for South Carolina companies, with the potential for even more growth across industries”

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.