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Perdue chooses Savannah as backdrop for preliminary NAFTA talks

  • From left, Georgia Ports Authority Board Chair Jimmy Allgood and GPA executive director Griff Lynch welcome U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Canadian Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Mexican Secretary of Agriculture José Calzada to Garden City Container Terminal, as the 11,300-TEU containership CMA CGM Lyra works in the background. (Georgia Ports Authority/Stephen B. Morton)

By all accounts, former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue hit one out of the park when the now-U.S. Secretary of Agriculture played host to the agriculture ministers of Canada and Mexico in Savannah this week.

Already widely credited with helping to moderate the Trump Administration’s stance on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has been as much a boon for America’s farmers as it has been a bust for manufacturing interests, Perdue broke with tradition in setting the table for NAFTA agricultural talks, expected to begin in earnest later this year.

Instead of hosting his colleagues for a trilateral meeting inside the beltway, Perdue chose to invite them – and their wives — to his comfort zone, where they spent several days getting to know one another, enjoying unique Southern cuisine and talking informally about the issues that most concerned each of them.

The approach also gave Perdue a chance to show off his home state and put a spotlight on one of his proudest achievements as governor – the exponential growth of the Port of Savannah.

The three toured the ports, pausing at Garden City Terminal’s Container Berth 9, where the 1,200-foot-long CMA CGM Lyra was working under five ship-to-shore cranes.

With a capacity of 11,300 TEUs – or 20-foot container units – the Lyra is typical of the new Neo-Panamax container ships coming through the expanded Panama Canal to call on the U.S. East Coast.

The setting gave MacAulay and Calzada a close-up look at the port that handled 17 percent of Canada’s – and 11 percent of Mexico’s – East Coast container trade in 2016.

While the three met early Tuesday to talk about NAFTA, Perdue stressed that the heavy lifting is still to come.

“The purpose of this gathering is not to make any major recommendations,” he said Tuesday. “That will be done by our official trade negotiators. But it’s important for all three countries that we develop personal relationships of trust and candor in discussing the issues we’ll be dealing with in the NAFTA renegotiations.”

Canadian Minister of Agriculture Lawrence MacAulay agreed, praising Perdue’s approach to the upcoming discussions.

“It’s so important when you have the rapport we have developed,” he said. “”There are always going to be issues and we will deal with those issues.”

Jose Calzada, Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture, also stressed the importance of trust as negotiations go forward.

“This is a nice moment and opportunity for us to put the politics aside, become friends and send a strong message to the people in all three countries that the evolution of NAFTA is one that will complement all of our economies,” he said.

A mea culpa

One of the really fun parts of this job, as any daily reporter will tell you, is that when you make a mistake, you make it in print and online in front of tens of thousands of your closest friends.

And, after 30 years in this business, I have made my share of doozies.

Once, when writing about big cranes coming upriver to the port, I inadvertently misspelled the word winch, changing its meaning from a type of pulley used for hauling to a slang expression for a working girl. Needless to say, I caught more than a little flak from readers over that unfortunate swapping of vowels.

“That’s hard work,” a reader wrote, tongue in cheek. “I sure hope GPA is paying those girls well.”

On another occasion, I single-handedly launched a Gulfstream G550 business jet into space, reporting it could cruise at altitudes of up to 50,000 miles. It should have been feet.

Last week, I added a new entry to my top three all-time gaffes when I said that a TEU was a 10-foot-long container.

The worst part of that was it was in a column all about containers in which I was explaining, once and for all, the definition of a TEU.

Regular readers of this column know that I know a TEU is a 20-foot container — where that brain blip came from, I have no idea. Of course, my sweet mother always said you’re never quite so stupid as when you’re trying to look smart. So there’s that.

For all the readers who kindly ribbed me about that — and past goofs – thank you. To those who couldn’t wait to tell me what a moron I am, at least you were leaving other people alone while you were busy torching me. But, most importantly, you were reading.

For that I thank you.

Senior business reporter Mary Carr Mayle covers the ports for the Savannah Morning News and savannahnow. She can be reached at 912-652-0324 or at mary.mayle@savannahnow.com.

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Breakout Box: 

Following are the ships expected to call on Georgia Ports Authority’s Garden City and Ocean terminals this week. Schedules are supplied by GPA and are subject to change.

TERMINAL VESSEL ETA

GCT CHARLESTON EXPRESS Today

GCT CMA CGM AMBER Today

GCT MSC KARLSKRONA Today

GCT MARGARETE SCHULTE Today

GCT MAERSK COLUMBUS Today

GCT MAERSK WILMINGTON Today

GCT NYK RUMINA Today

GCT HOUSTON BRIDGE Today

GCT MSC MAUREEN Today

GCT NYK DAEDALUS Today

OT GENIUS HIGHWAY Today

OT TAMESIS Today

GCT CMA CGM THAMES Saturday

GCT ERRIA SWAN Saturday

GCT MSC NILGUN Saturday

GCT MSC ILONA Saturday

GCT CMA CGM LA TRAVIATA Saturday

GCT MAERSK KOKURA Saturday

GCT MAIPO Saturday

OT BBC MAPLE LEA Saturday

OT TAIPAN Saturday

OT SPRING QUEEN Saturday

GCT HUMEN BRIDGE Sunday

GCT MSC RITA Sunday

GCT MAERSK SHENZHEN Sunday

GCT WASHINGTON EXPRESS Monday

GCT MAERSK DHAHRAN Monday

GCT MAERSK MEMPHIS Monday

GCT MOL MAJESTY Monday

GCT CMA CGM ATTILA Monday

GCT ZIM BARCELONA Monday

GCT MAERSK SAIGON Tuesday

GCT MSC MELISSA Tuesday

GCT CMA CGM MOLIERE Tuesday

GCT ZIM CONSTANZA Tuesday

GCT MSC MONICA Tuesday

GCT MAERSK KOTKA Wednesday

GCT STOLT COMMITMENT Wednesday

GCT BARGE PENN 81 Wednesday

GCT TAMMO Wednesday

GCT NAGOYA EXPRESS Wednesday

GCT GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE Thursday

GCT HAMBURG BAY Thursday

GCT NYK RIGEL Thursday

GCT BROTONNE BRIDGE Thursday

OT TONSBERG Thursday

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