Miami still offering Watson Island, Dinner Key sites to FTAA
By Claudio Mendonça
Watson Island and Dinner Key remain at the top of the list of sites being offered as possible headquarters of the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
While the 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere try to concur on sensitive issues ranging from dumping practices to subsidies that have hindered the implementation of the FTAA, Miami city officials have submitted proposals for two possible headquarters locations.
"Currently there are three venues owned by the City of Miami being discussed, and now we have to pick one," said Mayor Manny Diaz. "FTAA is considering 60,000-square-foot facilities in Coconut Grove and Watson Island."
The Watson Island waterfront facility is on the 86-acre island next to the site of a planned $426 million retail-hotel-marina resort.
Jorge Arrizurieta, president of Florida FTAA Inc., said the advantage of the Watson Island facility is its proximity to downtown and Miami Beach.
"On Watson Island, you are five minutes from Miami and five minutes from South Beach," said Mr. Arrizurieta. "On the other hand, the Dinner Key location on Coconut Grove also has great access. It is very urban, and people can get there walking."
Mr Arrizurieta said he approves of the Watson Island venue and the Dinner Key facility, saying he has "no preferences" on which is chosen.
Miami's strongest opponent to landing the headquarters is Panama City, Panama.
The FTAA will not go into effect Jan 1, as previously expected. "With the presidential elections approaching, political common sense says that it is hard to get to that date," said Mr. Arrizurieta.
"There are a variety of issues and differences of opinion with nations from Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay)," Mr. Arrizurieta said. "It's an 800-page agreement, so it is difficult to reach a consensus."
Some of the steps needed to finalize the agreement are formal signatures of heads of state and the approval of congresses of all 34 countries involved.
On Monday, Dominican president Leonel Fernandez came to Florida to endorse his support of Miami as the host city.
"Miami has to become the permanent headquarters for the FTAA," said Mr. Fernandez, who assumed the presidency Aug.16. "As the birthplace of the FTAA, Miami has been working hard for a long time."
Mr. Fernandez said Miami has 300 companies handling business in Latin America. The Dominican Republic has $5 billion in trade with the US, and half of that country's exports flow through Florida. The Dominican Republic is Florida's second-largest trade partner behind Brazil.
Alongside the Dominican president, Gov. Jeb Bush said having FTAA headquarters in Miami would benefit the entire state.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is urging the 34 nations comprising the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas to stick together in order to compete on a global level.
In a meeting with the Dominican Republic president Monday at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Mr. Bush warned about the threat China and other Far Eastern nations such as Taiwan and India represent to the hemisphere's economy.
With China's economy growing 10% a year compared to the US's 4%, Mr. Bush warned that in order for countries in the hemisphere to be competitive on a global basis they must work together.
"If we don't have free trade agreements within our hemisphere, the entire manufacturing process will go overseas to China. As a result, jobs will be lost to countries in the Far East," the governor said. "Countries such as China have a strong impact on trade and on the global economy."
Tony Villamil, CEO of the Washington Economics Group, agrees.
"The issue here is that the world is becoming integrated and as a result companies are seeking bigger marketplaces such as the European Union, China and India," explained Dr. Villamil. "By creating the FTAA, you have a market of 800 million people. Therefore, you have more consumers and companies sell more.
Dr. Villamil said trading blocks such as the FTAA help lower the cost of doing business.
"By creating free trade areas there are lower tariffs and lower cost per unit because companies produce higher volumes," he said.
As an advocate of free trade, Gov. Bush said trade barriers actually hurt the US and countries in the Caribbean and Latin America.
"For those who favor trade barriers and naively think tariffs will protect ourselves from free competition, we need to think differently and look into countries such as the Dominican Republic and Central America for trade," said Mr. Bush.
FTAA Florida President and CEO Jorge Arrizurieta shares Gov. Bush's opinion on supporting the hemisphere trade block.
"Every country in the hemisphere has to rally behind FTAA," said Mr. Arrizurieta. "If countries such as the US, Brazil and Mexico are having a hard time competing with China, imagine how smaller nations feel," said Mr. Arrizurieta. "Smaller nations just can't compete. Why have manufacturing in the Far East when we can have it here?"