Florida starts recruiting team to attract free trade headquarters, organize foreign ministers meeting
By Susan Stabley
Houston appears to be out of the running for the headquarters for the Free Trade Area of the Americas, while Florida officials compile a short list of leaders to organize efforts to secure upcoming accords and the site.
Terms of the Free Trade Area of the Americas trade accord, set to eliminate quotas and tariffs, are currently being worked out, and the agreement would be signed by the 34 Western Hemisphere nations from Canada to Argentina except Cuba in late 2005. Each nation would have one vote in deciding where the treaty office headquarters will go.
Houston is not "actively pursuing" the FTAA headquarters, said spokesman David McCollum of the Greater Houston Partnership, a regional business advocate that also advances international trade." There are no organizing efforts to bring the Secretariat here."
Houston could be a viable candidate with its connections to Central America and ties to NAFTA. The area is closer to Mexico City than to Chicago, Mr. McCollum said. But, instead, the word in Houston is that the trade headquarters is probably headed to Miami, he said.
J. Antonio Villamil, vice chair of Florida FTAA Inc., said he was not surprised to hear that Houston was not still a contender. While San Diego and Pueblo, Mexico, have also been floated as a possible headquarters, the only ones he considers to be in the race are Atlanta, Panama City, Panama, and Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago.
But the key project right now is planning for this November's ministerial meeting of 34 countries in negotiation for the free trade agreement, which includes the Eighth American Business Forum - an important step toward Miami becoming home to the trade headquarters.
Still to be selected are board members for the Florida FTAA and the steering committees for this fall's gatherings, as well as the president of the American Business Forum. One name is already being floated - Armando Codina, founder and chairman of Codina Group, a Coral Gables-based real estate investment, development, construction, brokerage and property management firm.
Dr. Villamil would not confirm who the top picks are yet for key positions.
"There are a number of names," he said. But he did say of Mr. Codina: "He's certainly a person who would have the knowledge to serve as president of the Americas Business Forum."
Mr. Codina could not be reached. An assistant said he was traveling but relayed a message that Mr. Codina is still gathering information on whether he would be involved in the FTAA efforts.
Gov. Jeb Bush this month recommended a 10- to 15-person board or steering committee be established consisting of three to four representatives from the governor's office, Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami, Coral Gables and other possible South Florida counties or cities.
The governor suggested that Miami-Dade County Mayor Penelas, in consultation with the other mayors, select the vice chair. Among those Gov. Bush recommended were four former US Ambassadors: Luis Lauredo, Paul Cejas, Simon Ferro and Ambler Moss, all who have served in Democratic administrations and currently live in Miami-Dade County.
Leading the Florida efforts is former US ambassador and Coral Gables developer Chuck Cobb, who has served as undersecretary and assistant secretary at the US Department of Commerce with responsibilities for the nation's trade development, export promotion and international travel and tourism.