By Eric Gregory
Kentucky's signature bourbon industry is on the cusp of a golden age. Our early distilling pioneers probably never imagined that our homegrown spirit would be fueling the Bluegrass economy and savored around the world.
Thanks in large part to international demand, our iconic industry has doubled its workforce over the past two years, tripled the number of distilleries and set major new benchmarks in payroll, tax revenue, exports and barrel inventories.
Bourbon is now a $3 billion economic engine with more than $1.3 billion in capital investments either completed or under construction in the next five years. And our tourism impact with the Kentucky Bourbon Trail adventure is just beginning.
But we could be doing more.
International trade matters to Kentucky's economy. In 2014, the state exported over $27 billion in goods around the world.
Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskey made up more than $1 billion in exports, making it the largest export category among all U.S. distilled spirits.
Free trade agreements are vital to the continued growth of Kentucky bourbon across the Asia-Pacific region and the rest of the world. The passage of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) — set for a Senate vote this weekend — will bolster the bourbon renaissance, spur additional investment and create more Kentucky jobs.
A great example is Korea, the 11th largest spirits market in the world. It has historically been difficult for bourbon to gain a foothold there because of high tariffs and counterfeit products that attempt to cash in on centuries of Kentucky craftsmanship and tradition.
But passage of the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement immediately eliminated the 20 percent tariff on bourbon. The result, just one year later, was a 73-percent increase of Kentucky bourbon exports to Korea.
All we needed was a level playing field. So imagine our excitement over export opportunities when the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a strong free-trade agreement with 11 trading partners, is finalized.
In 2014, half of Kentucky's exports were to TPP countries.
TPA is a true partnership that requires Congress and the administration to work together on trade, protects U.S. sovereignty and strengthens congressional oversight. It is one of our industry's top priorities, and we strongly encourage its swift passage.
TPA is necessary to conclude TPP, as our trading partners are seeking confidence in the administration's authority to conclude a deal.
Kentucky is the one, true and authentic home for bourbon and a stable source of good-paying jobs for thousands of hard-working families. We need TPA to leverage and sustain this tremendous success for the benefit of all Kentuckians.