Securing hemispheric meeting energizes Miami's free trade campaign
By Susan Stabley
Now that Miami has won the next major meeting of representatives of 34 countries, local leaders want to raise name recognition for the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
Next fall's ministerial meeting will include the Eighth American Business Forum and is an important step toward Miami becoming home to a trade headquarters. The forum will bring together hemispheric representatives to recommend steps to the countries' trade ministers.
Organizers say the time is now for Miami leaders to gear up for the forum and lobby for FTAA passage.
"What's next is really getting community involvement and interest," said Gene Rostov, a trustee of Florida FTAA, a Coral Gables-based non-profit that supports Miami's bid for the headquarters. "What is essential is name recognition."
After all, FTAA doesn't roll off the tongue like NAFTA, the already-approved North American trade pact.
The proposed trade area would create a free zone among countries in the Western Hemisphere. The treaty would remove tariffs and quotas to allow a free flow of exports from Canada to Argentina, with the exception of Cuba.
Issues such as a possible war with Iraq and depressed economy are dominating the press and the trade area has been lost in the back pages of newspapers, said Mr. Rostov, managing partner of law firm Baker McKenzie.
"It's very abstract for most people who don't understand it," he said. "They can't be sure if they like it if they don't know what it is."
Miami is vying for the secretariat, the permanent headquarters for trade federation business, against Atlanta; Houston; San Diego; Puebla, Mexico; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; and Panama City, Panama.
In preparing for the next gathering, not only must planners figure out how to turn FTAA into a familiar term, they must also prepare for demonstrators and logistical challenges.
"I believe globalization has been demonized," said Francisco X. Santeiro, managing director of Global Trade Services, Latin American and Caribbean Division, for FedEx in Miami. "It's not a zero-sum game."
Mr. Santeiro calls the proposed pact "an honest intimate agreement which will increase the flow of commerce through the region and we hope to carry a bunch of it on our planes."
But while many target finding a local headquarters site, he is focused on wrapping up the agreement.
Mr. Santeiro and FedEx have been campaigning for eight customs measures designed during a 1999 Toronto trade meeting and agreed to by the 34 Summit of the Americas countries. The measures call for a harmonious coding system, express shipments and consistency among countries' regulations from Belize to Bolivia, he said.
"These are very common-sense measures that set the basis of the trade treaty," said Mr. Santeiro, who added that their fate will be a good indicator of the eventual success of the FTAA.
In the meantime, the Florida delegation thinks Miami scored several points in the contest to attract the coveted Free Trade Area of the Americas headquarters at a gathering two weeks ago of international trade ministers in Quito, Ecuador.
The front man for the Florida delegation, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, was able to make an unscheduled speech at the forum's opening.
A delegation of more than 30 from Miami hosted a breakfast for more than 100 Latin American and Caribbean representatives during the meeting as a way to woo the head office, or secretariat, of the FTAA.
Mayor Penelas and others spoke on behalf of Miami in English, Spanish and Portuguese, said Hugh Simon, Florida undersecretary of state for international affairs.
However, when Mayor Penelas was asked to help fill in some time after a key speaker was unable to make it, he was at no loss for words, Mr. Simon said. A representative from Panama also spoke. Atlanta did not.
Maybe it was a miscommunication. Those who were in attendance declined to say, save one, who said it was "some kind of scheduling conflict."
A lunch was served by the Atlanta group led by Mayor Shirley Franklin and a bevy of corporate bigwigs, plus the blessings of recent Nobel laureate and former President, Georgia's own, Jimmy Carter. The Atlanta Journal & Constitution reported that BellSouth and the law firm of Kilpatrick Stockton covered most of the $80,000 expense.
A strong showing was also given by the Panamanian delegation with an invitation-only cocktail party on the first night, plus a booth at the hotels and representatives in folk costumes. Panama City is also serving as the temporary home of the FTAA as Miami did from September 1998 to February 2001.
In 2003, the FTAA moves again for a two-year term to Mexico before settling into a permanent home in the nations come to a formal agreement on the trade area.
But Mr. Simon says he's not worried about Panama's chances.
"Their ammunition is almost gone," said Mr. Simon, who spoke at the breakfast. "Panama doesn't have anything left to shoot."
Don't rule out Mexico, though, said Mr. Rostov, who spoke in Portuguese at a breakfast for the Brazilians.
"I wouldn't discount them at all," Mr. Rostov said. "They are important as a country in Latin America and because of their geographical location."
During the breakfast, the Miami delegation also unveiled the first designs of the proposed headquarters created by University of Miami School of Architecture professor Jorge Hernandez and rendered by fellow architecture professor Tom Spain.
No site has been selected but organizers prefer downtown Miami, with construction estimated at $40 million to $60 million.
The 25,000- to 30,000-square-foot stone and stucco structure was conceived to represent the "Hemispheric characteristics of the Americas."
The proposed headquarters has a patio-style courtyard that acts as a sculpture gallery, Mr. Hernandez said. Surrounding it would be a series of arcades that give way to other meeting rooms and a ceremonial room at the end. Rising from the front is an eight-story office tower, he said.
Mr. Simon expects a decision on the headquarters by January 2005. Each nation needs to ratify the agreement by December 2005.