Chamber Told Record Of Success Needed For Secretariat
By Candi Calkins
With less than a year before the temporary secretariat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas leaves Miami, Lynn Summers, executive director of Team Florida FTAA, said the pressure is on "to create a record of success."
"Considering that the Free Trade Area of the Americas represents nearly 800 million people and $14 trillion in economic output, it is the largest trading bloc in the world," said Philip Blumberg, chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, who has made winning the permanent secretariat a top priority.
"This is a crucial year in that the interim headquarters is still here in Miami," Mr. Blumberg said at the chamber’s weekend goals conference. "We have an opportunity to make a strong case why it should stay here on a permanent basis. We want to make sure the business community is involved in that effort."
Support for the Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations in Miami is the top goal this year for the chamber’s international economic development committee.
"The chamber’s role is in integrating the business community in the overall effort to maintain the secretariat here in Miami," Mr. Blumberg said.
Ms. Summers said the nonprofit Team Florida FTAA is now raising funds to meet negotiators’ needs for the next year.
She said negotiations are intensifying as delegates work to meet a December deadline to deliver a draft agreement.
Daily sessions are scheduled from 9 a.m.-9 p.m., increasing the need for interpreters and translators. In addition, the secretariat has increased staffing to more than 20 people and must lease additional office space at the Hotel Inter-Continental Miami.
Ms. Summers said the state has budgeted $350,000 to help fill the gap. Officials are also seeking $200,000 from the county. She said remaining funds will be donated by the private sector.
Negotiators move to Panama in 2001 and Mexico City in 2003 before wrapping up a free trade agreement for the Western Hemisphere, due in 2005.
Miami will face significant competition from Mexico, Panama and Brazil in the city’s quest to host the permanent secretariat after talks are complete, said J. Antonio Villamil, Miami economist who is leaving his post as director of trade, tourism and economic development under Florida Gov. Jeb Bush this month to return here.
"We cannot afford not to have the permanent Free Trade Area of the Americas secretariat here in Miami as a corporate image issue," Mr. Villamil said.
Gilbert Lee Sandler, past chairman of the international economic development committee of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, said the free trade negotiations already have resulted in proposed business facilitation measures.
He said US implementation of those proposals could enhance Miami’s chances to get the permanent secretariat.
Chamber members discussed the need to build allies among US and Latin chamber groups to broaden support for Miami’s bid.