Florida FTAA refocusing under new director
By Eric Kalis
Florida FTAA Inc. is fine-tuning its objectives to adapt to slower-than-expected free trade negotiations as Executive Director Brian Dean begins his tenure.
In his initial meeting June 7, Mr. Dean announced that he will guide the board of trustees to focus on specific issues such as ongoing negotiations for bilateral trade agreements and advancing the state's ethanol initiative.
The ultimate goal remains making Miami a permanent headquarters for international trade, he said.
Toward that end, Florida FTAA received $525,000 from the state and $100,000 from Miami-Dade County this year. The City of Miami has pledged to fulfill its commitment to the organization, he said.
Thirty-four Western Hemisphere nations are negotiating the Free Trade Area of the Americas. An agreement originally was scheduled for 2005 but no one is sure if or when a pact will be made.
If Miami were chosen to host the secretariat for the free-trade area, it would benefit from the creation of thousands of new jobs and enhance its strong trade relations with Latin America, supporters say. Selection of the secretariat is to be made by participating countries, but no process for selection exists.
For Miami to be a centerpiece for free trade, Florida FTAA must work on combining existing agreements into one all-encompassing pact, said Chairman Charles Cobb, CEO of international investment firm Cobb Partners. Deals with Peru, Columbia and Panama, Mr. Cobb said, are awaiting approval from Congress.
Florida FTAA has formally proposed two potential sites for headquarters in Miami - Watson Island and the Dinner Key Marina.
"Miami remains a perfectly positioned city to be a secretariat for the FTAA," Mr. Dean said. "The obstacles have nothing to do with Miami. Free trade is a regional issue, not a partisan issue, but the divide in sentiment has definitely slowed the process."
Mr. Dean spent last week in Washington sharing his objectives with trade representatives. A focal point of the discussions, he said, was the role Brazil could play in expediting negotiations. Top officials in Brazil are hesitant to join free-trade talks, Mr. Dean said, because of objections to existing US agricultural subsidies.
The country's reluctance to participate, Mr. Cobb said, is the reason the Free Trade Area of the Americas has not been established.
"It all comes down to Brazil," he said. "Hopefully, ethanol can play a role in moving negotiations forward."
Using sugar cane instead of corn, Brazil makes about as much ethanol as the US, according to the Florida FTAA Web site.
"We want to engage Brazil in all of the issues being discussed in Washington, DC, including the ethanol initiative," Mr. Dean said. "Brazil has been on the cutting edge the last three decades for making the use of fuel technology economically viable. This is certainly a wedge issue for Brazil's future involvement with free-trade discussions."
The organization needs assurance from Capitol Hill leaders, Mr. Dean said, that negotiations are moving in the direction of free trade.
"We want to have political acknowledgment that the issue has not fallen off," Mr. Dean said.