Broward wants to play role in hemispheric business forum, trade ministers' meeting
By Susan Stabley
Broward County officials are asking Gov. Jeb Bush for a piece of the action in hosting the Eighth Americas Business Forum and companion ministerial meetings in Miami, a step toward the area securing the headquarters for a free trade accord among 34 countries of the Western Hemisphere.
The Eighth Americas Business Forum is set for the week of Nov. 17 while negotiations for the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA, will be held Nov. 20 and 21. Dates were coordinated by the US trade representative and the government of Brazil, which co-chairs FTAA negotiations with the US.
Terms of the Free Trade Area of the Americas treaty, set to eliminate quotas and tariffs, are still pending and the agreement needs to be signed by the 34 nations in the hemisphere 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; Puebla, Mexico; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; and Panama City, Panama.
Florida will get to spotlight itself as the proposed venue for the trade headquarters during the ministerial meetings and business forum. Those pushing for the Miami site hope the area's economic, cultural, historical and political links to Latin America and the Caribbean will bolster its chances.
Broward County Mayor Diana Wasserman-Rubin, in a Jan. 30 letter to Gov. Bush, has offered her support.
"I am prepared to bring the full weight of my office to assist with both the bid and the ministerial meetings," Mayor Wasserman-Rubin wrote. "As a strong advocate of international business and trade, I believe it is vital that our region cooperate in projects and programs that will benefit the 5 million citizens of South Florida."
If passed, the FTAA will increase the political, economic and cultural connections between Florida, the US and the entire region opening up the largest free trade area in the world with a total gross domestic product of more than $14 trillion and 800 million consumers, according to the governor's office. International trade revenue in Florida is expected to reach $130 billion by the year 2005, even without the expected benefits of an FTAA treaty.
Mayor Wasserman-Rubin wrote in her letter that an aggressive bid for the secretariat was soon to be announced by Mexico City. She asked for more information on Miami's efforts so that Broward could join in an agreement, or memorandum of understanding, to show support and become involved. Mayor Wasserman-Rubin will soon be traveling with the governor to Spain on a trade and tourism mission.
The Broward mayor also suggested some citizens from that county who could help land the FTAA efforts. She suggested Pembroke Pines Mayor Alex Fekete, also the chair of the Florida League of Cities International Committee; Randy Avon, international vice president of Sister Cities International; and Carlos Reyes, who runs the international desk at law firm Greenberg Traurig in Broward County.
Last month, US trade representatives met in Miami to hash out logistical and support functions. More than 5,000 people are expected for the one-week event, not including protesters.
Security will be a main concern for the Americas Business Forum and the corresponding gatherings, said Tony Ojeda, director of the Office of Protocol, International Trade and Commerce for Miami-Dade County, who is also a key organizer behind the scenes of the ministerial meetings.
Already, anti-globalization groups are planning to protest the FTAA meeting here in similar fashion to rallies held at G8 summits and meetings of the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and others around the world.
"People have the right to demonstrate too, so we will have to balance that all out," said Mr. Ojeda.
On Friday, Gov. Bush finished naming the key players in the FTAA drive.
Armando Codina will serve as president of the Americas Business Forum, according to Gov. Bush. Mr. Codina is the chairman and CEO of the Codina Group and will be responsible for bringing in high-level involvement from leaders across the hemisphere plus nationwide resources to the event. Advising him will be representatives from the Council of the Americas, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Network for Hemispheric Integration.
The Americas Business Forum has been meeting since 1995 as a way for groups to offer recommendations to trade ministers on topics such as market access, government procurement, agriculture and intellectual property rights.
Former ambassador to the Organization of American States and Miami-Dade resident Luis Lauredo will head efforts for the ministerial meetings as executive director. Already tapped as point man for the FTAA was former US Ambassador and Coral Gables developer Chuck Cobb, who will serve as chair of Florida FTAA Inc., a statewide non-profit based in Coral Gables formed to promote Miami for the headquarters.
Dr. J. Antonio Villamil - chairman of the Governor's Council of Economic Advisors and CEO of the Washington Economics Group in Miami - will continue as vice chair of Florida FTAA, per Gov. Bush's request. Mr. Villamil was an undersecretary of commerce under the administration of former President George Bush.
A 40-member board of directors has also been established for the November meetings to be chaired by Mr. Cobb. On the board are the mayors of Miami-Dade County and the cities of Miami, Coral Gables and Miami Beach plus the commissioners of Miami Dade County and the City of Miami, members of the Florida FTAA Board of trustees, business leaders and former ambassadors residing in South Florida.