Gov. Bush nears decision day for structure of trade leadership
By Susan Stabley
As Gov. Jeb Bush begins his second term, a decision must be made about whether his newly appointed secretary of state will lead efforts to secure the Free Trade Area of the Americas headquarters in Miami-Dade County.
Next fall's ministerial meeting of 34 countries in negotiation for a free trade agreement is scheduled for somewhere in Greater Miami. That event will include the Eighth American Business Forum, where representatives will make recommendations for trade ministers, and is considered an important step toward the county becoming home to the trade headquarters.
Terms of the FTAA trade accord, set to eliminate quotas and tariffs, are still being worked out, and the agreement is to be signed by the 34 Western Hemisphere nations from Canada to Argentina except Cuba in late 2005. Each nation will have one vote in deciding where the treaty office headquarters will go.
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 December, Gov. Bush picked three-term Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood to fill the secretary of state post and she is expected to begin work in February. She will be the first secretary of state appointed as an aide to the governor instead of being elected to a cabinet position.
Ms. Hood, along with Miami developer and former ambassador to Iceland Chuck Cobb, were tapped to lead an economic diversity transition team, one of three major initiatives identified by the governor. The question remains whether Ms. Hood will be the point person on Miami's efforts to become a trade headquarters.
Previous Secretary of State Katherine Harris was also chair of Florida FTAA - a Coral Gables-based non-profit promoting Miami-Dade County for the headquarters - until December, when she resigned. Ms. Harris was required to step down from both roles when she announced her bid for Congress, a seat she won last fall.
In the interim, acting chair was Tony Villamil, vice president of the Florida FTAA, chairman of Gov. Bush's Council of Economic Advisors and CEO of the Washington Economics Group.
The FTAA is considered a priority for Gov. Bush's administration and the transition team will look at all facets of the state's economic engine, said Pamella Dana, director of the Governor's Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development.
"It's all kinds of things. What made sense, what didn't. What works, what doesn't," Ms. Dana said this month.
"He wants to restructure the state mechanism for taking advantage of international trade," said Hugh Simon, Florida undersecretary of state for international affair, based in Coral Gables.
Mr. Simon's office will also be affected by the governor's Cabinet restructuring. Ms. Harris initiated the international affairs office to promote trade and bring the headquarters of a proposed hemispheric trade accord to Miami-Dade County soon after her election in 1998 to secretary of state.
In September, the Governor's Office of Tourism, Trade & Economic Development - which assists the governor in working with the legislature, state agencies and representatives of business and economic development engines - took over international affairs, including the satellite office in Coral Gables. The state's international affairs division, with the Gables office run by Mr. Simon, operates on a $3 million annual budget, which includes the undersecretary's salary.
The Orlando Sentinel has reported that the economic diversification transition team recommends that the new appointed secretary of state position take over the responsibilities of the Governor's Office of Trade, Tourism and Economic Development.
Ms. Dana said she expects a decision soon on the structure of these offices, as well as who will chair the state's efforts for the FTAA and leadership positions of the Americas Business Forum.
"From there, we will be engaged in the ministerial effort."