Brazilians' visa waits decline, trade with Miami grows
By Scott Blake
With Brazil and Greater Miami now firmly established as economic bedfellows, the exchange of people and goods between the two continues to make progress, according to new reports.
Perhaps the biggest barrier to bringing more Brazilian tourists to South Florida has been lowered with the reduction of visa wait times for Brazilians wanting to visit the US. Yet the larger question lingers: will federal legislation be approved to give Brazilians visa waiver status?
"All Miami business groups want this," said William Talbert III, CEO and president of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, which has been pushing for the legislation.
Meanwhile, Mr. Talbert and other tourism officials have commended the US State Department for responding to their concerns by reducing wait times for visa interviews, which now average two weeks or less in several Brazilian cities.
Mr. Talbert recently reported the average wait time for a visa interview in Sao Paulo — Brazil's largest city — was down to 24 days, while it was down to seven days in Brasilia and two days in Recife and Rio de Janeiro.
"Last fall, a wait of 100 days was common," he added. "We're making progress."
"If wait times continue along this course, the US should start to see tangible economic benefits that a strong travel industry can deliver," Roger Dow, CEO and president of the US Travel Association, said in a statement.
"This means more American jobs and more revenue for our cities and destinations," Mr. Dow added.
The reductions already seem to be having an impact. According to the US Travel Association, the US processed 86,000 visa applications in Brazil in January, up 60% from January 2011, when Brazilians often had to wait for several months for an interview.
In 2010, Brazilians spent $5.9 billion in the US, enough to support 42,000 jobs, according to the association.
Much of that Brazilian tourism was in Greater Miami, where Brazilian visitors spent an estimated $1.1 billion in 2010 and $1.35 billion in 2011 — becoming the area's most lucrative foreign tourist market, Mr. Talbert said.
However, Brazilians would be permitted to bypass the interview process completely if the US grants Brazil visa waiver status, which Mr. Talbert said could double the numbers of Brazilians visiting South Florida, providing a greater boost to the economy.
Not to be outdone by tourism, Greater Miami's international trade with Brazil has put up some strong numbers.
In 2010, for example, the value of exports to Brazil originating in or passing through the US Customs District Miami reached $11.92 billion — up 24% from the year before, according to the Florida Foreign Trade Association, which tracks international trade.
The top five exports to Brazil were aircraft, computer parts, electronic integrated circuits, landline and cellular telephone equipment, and computers.
Brazilian exports coming to South Florida also grew, albeit at a slower pace. The value of Brazilian imports in the US Customs District Miami was $1.47 billion in 2010, up 2.7% from the year before, the association reported.
At Port Miami, trade with Brazil totaled 111,366 tons in fiscal 2010-2011, up from 32,295 tons the year before. The increase raised Brazil's rank to 14th overall among Port Miami's top trading partners, including a sixth-place ranking for imports, according to Miami-Dade's Seaport Department.
"In efforts to boost commerce between Port Miami and Brazil," department spokeswoman Andria Muniz-Amador said in a statement, "Port Director Bill Johnson has traveled to Brazil on three occasions over the past 18 months."
In addition, she said, Port Miami and World Trade Center Miami are looking at possibilities for establishing a "local business presence" in Brazil.
The port also has hosted Brazilian officials, she added, "including a visit from the mayor of Santos, Brazil, and the president of the Santos Port Authority in August 2011, which focused on ways to further increase trade."
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