Bush to lead Enterprise Florida delegation to South America
By Claudio Mendonça
Enterprise Florida representatives are to leave for South America on Wednesday (1/18) to promote trade in Florida, but more importantly to continue Miami's pursuit of the Free Trade Area of the Americas secretariat.
Spearheaded by Gov. Jeb Bush, the delegation will meet with officials in Quito, Ecuador, and Lima, Peru, through Jan. 20.
The commercial mission, originally scheduled for last year, was postponed because of Hurricane Katrina.
"This is not just a trade mission," said Manny Mencia, Enterprise Florida's senior vice president of international trade and business development. "It is more goodwill and advocacy subjective to promote Miami as the FTAA headquarters" in a region that comprises 800 million consumers with a potential combined gross domestic product of $14 billion.
Mr. Mencia said many participants seek to increase business ties with Andean counterparts.
Trade with Peru, Florida's 21st-largest partner in international commerce, approached $1.2 billion in 2004. Through September, trade was up 16% to $971.5 million from $833 million a year earlier. Peru is Florida's 17th-largest export market with $734 million. Mr. Mencia said that through September, exports were on pace to top 2004 by 21%.
Ecuador is Florida's 20th-biggest partner, trading $1.2 billion worth of goods in 2004. Through September, trade with Ecuador was up 16.5% from a year earlier.
Despite encouraging trade numbers, Mr. Mencia stressed that the main focus of the mission is advocacy and building relations.
"We are expecting good news from that end in our FTAA efforts," said Jorge Arrizurieta, president and CEO of Florida FTAA Inc., a non-profit advocate of Miami's pursuit of the FTAA's permanent secretariat. "There is a political side alongside the business side of the trip. Peru and Ecuador are important trading partners, and this solidifies that relation. There is no doubt that the governor is the best advocate for our state."
For the trade area to be born, Mr. Arrizurieta said, agreements such as the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement and the US-Andean Trade Agreement must come first.
"There is a good possibility that the FTAA will become a reality," Mr. Arrizurieta said. "However, for this to happen, we have to continue making progress in bilateral agreements such as DR-CAFTA and the US-Andean trade agreement between Peru, Ecuador and Colombia."
DR-CAFTA is pending congressional approval from all participating countries except El Salvador, he said.
"Once DR-CAFTA is regulated and once US-Andean is negotiated, we will pave the way for the FTAA," Mr. Arrizurieta said. "Now, whether the FTAA is going to happen in 2006, I'm not sure."
In Peru, the delegation is to meet with President Alejandro Toledo and his cabinet. Plans for free-trade agreements could fail if ultra-nationalist Ollanta Humala wins Peru's April 9 presidential election. Mr. Humala, a lieutenant colonel who led a failed coup in 2000, has been among frontrunners in recent polls.
"Anyone who does not support free-trade initiatives can be a problem," said Mr. Arrizurieta. "But right now, it is too soon to worry about that reality."