Florida, Miami-Dade officials step up efforts to attract headquarters for free trade secretariat
By Paola Iuspa
When government officials and entrepreneurs from the Americas meet in Ecuador this month to discuss creating a free trade zone, Miami-Dade's business leaders hope to present a conceptual package of what the county can offer if it becomes home to the accord headquarters.
Members of the Coral Gables-based Florida FTAA Inc., a non-profit pro-trade group, don't yet have a site or design for offices for a Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA, but will work to sell the area.
Plans call for the business community, with financial help from federal, state and local governments, to pay for the building's construction estimated to cost between $40 million to 60 million, said Hugh Simon, undersecretary of state for international affairs. Florida FTAA members hope to have an economic study completed by year's end, he said, as well as a site survey identifying where the headquarters could be built.
"It will be free to the organization and it will house at most 200 employees," said Mr. Simon. "It will have also meeting space for trade dispute resolution issues and room for archives."
He said Miami-Dade Aviation Department officials have also said they will offer special attention to diplomats coming to the secretariat.
Ministers and other government officials won't decide on a home city for the FTAA at next week's negotiating meeting, but Miami and other cities are stepping up efforts to bid for the secretariat.
Selecting a city could be two years away, as the 34 countries participating in the negotiations have until January 2005 to reach consensus on the FTAA. Each nation needs to ratify the agreement by December 2005.
The treaty would remove trade barriers such as tariffs and quotas to allow a free flow of exports from Canada to Argentina, with the exception of Cuba.
At the ministerial meeting in Quito, Atlanta, Houston and San Diego will be vying to become home to the headquarters as well as Panama City, Panama; Puebla, Mexico; and Trinidad and Tobago.
Recently, Greater Miami's business community has been shoring up support. Officials from the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, the Beacon Council - the county's economic development arm - and the World Trade Center Miami gathered last week in Coral Gables to seek ideas for an enticing package to win the bid. Competition from other US cities seeking the secretariat is of special concern.
A boost to Miami-Dade's chances could come if international ministers accept US Trade Rep. Robert Zoellick's offer to hold the 2003 ministerial meeting here. He announced Monday he will make such an offer in two weeks at the ministerial event in Ecuador.
Luis Lauredo, former US ambassador to the Washington DC-based Organization of American States, said Mr. Zoellick's decision will strengthen Miami's efforts to sell itself. If the offer to hold the '03 ministerial meeting is accepted, he said, it will be an opportunity other US cities in the race will not have.
"We have to worry about the other cities," he said, but we should not get obsessed. We need to look go out and lobby to get the 18 votes that will make us home to the FTAA secretariat."
Miguel Southwell, assistant director for business development for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, said the group should beef up lobbying among the 15 English-speaking Caribbean nations, where officials seem to know more about Atlanta's merits for gaining the headquarters than Miami's.
At last week's meeting, many local groups pledged support.
Pamella Dana, director of the governor's office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development, said her department is working closely with the federal government to campaign on behalf of Miami. And Charlotte Gallogly, president of the World Trade Center Miami, said her group would try to recruit some of the county's 187 trade organizations to drum up support for Miami's bid among participants at World Trade Center events.