Opportunities for Florida await in Czech Republic, premier says
By Michael Hayes
Just as Miami is the gateway to the Americas, Prague can profitably be used as the bridgehead for doing business in Central and Eastern Europe, Czech Republic Prime Minister Milos Zeman said here.
Mr. Zeman, making a half-day stopover in Miami on his way home from an official visit to Mexico, was speaking Saturday at a roundtable at the Hyatt Regency Coral Gables organized by Enterprise Florida and the Czech Republic's trade office here, Czech Trade Miami, to promote two-way trade and investment.
The Czech Republic, the former communist-ruled Czechoslovakia, itself is a Central European country that has successfully transformed its political and economic system in the past decade from a centrally planned to a market economy built on respect for democracy and free trade, Mr. Zeman told his audience of local business men and women.
The nation of 10.3 million people is enjoying an annual growth in gross domestic product of 3.6% - double the rate of the US and European Union - inflation of only 4.7% and an unemployment rate below 9%, the prime minister said.
He said it has a skilled and well-educated labor force and a stable political climate. When the Czech Republic, located at the geographical center of Europe, becomes a full member of the European Union in 2004, Mr. Zeman said, it will offer even more opportunities for US investors and traders.
Mr. Zeman, of the Czech Social Democratic Party, was accompanied by his Industry & Trade Minister, Miroslav Gregr; other senior officials; the president of the 1,500-member Confederation of Industry of the Czech Republic, Stanislav Kazecky, and executives of 17 major manufacturing and services companies in his country looking to strengthen ties with US entities.
Welcoming the delegation, Manny Mencía, senior vice president for international trade and business development of Enterprise Florida, detailed the advantages for Czech entrepreneurs and investors of doing business here.
He was joined in the promotion by Charlotte Gallogly, president of World Trade Center Miami; Pamela Fuertes, manager of international economic development programs with the Beacon Council, and Tony Ojeda, director of Miami-Dade County's Trade Mission Center of the Americas.
Roman Matyas, director of Czech Trade Miami - only the second such office to be opened in the US by the Czech government (the other is in Chicago) - reported that trade between his country and the US had increased five-fold in recent years but further new opportunities awaited.
Figures show manufactured goods brought into Florida from the Czech Republic include iron and steel, electrical machinery, aircraft components, wood articles, tools, cutlery, furniture, bedding and glassware. A number of industrial and other activities in South Florida could benefit from importation of such goods, Mr. Matyas said, among them public transportation, ecological technology and agricultural engineering.
Mr. Gregr said currently 80% of Czech exports go to European Union countries but the government is making efforts to extend and diversify its markets. As for its imports, the US is now an important source of high-tech equipment, he said. He said the Czech Republic hopes to lure more capital through the offer of investment incentives.
While in Miami, Prime Minister Zeman met privately with the honorary consuls of the Czech Republic from around the US. Among them was Alan S. Becker, the honorary consul in South Florida and founding shareholder of the South Florida law firm Becker & Poliakoff.
Following the roundtable, Mr. Becker, Czech Ambassador to the US Martin Palous, Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas and the Board of County Commissioners were hosts at a reception for the prime minister and the delegation.