Expanding Emarket In Spotlight At Customs Symposium
By Jennifer Miller
An opening reception for the Sixth Symposium of the Americas, Customs Trade & Finance crowded the Hotel Inter-Continental Miami Monday with buzzing discussions about trade’s latest asset, an expanding electronic commerce market.
Customs directors general from 34 countries toasted and talked about smoothing international trade, while representatives for leading firms in e-trade such as From2.com, a symposium sponsor, and Yupi.com announced they could facilitate global market exchanges through Internet technology.
The three-day symposium, which lured 451 participants including speakers and sponsors to Miami, was launched in 1994 during the Summit of the Americas when gathering customs leaders gave a mandate to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas by 2005.
"Customs are a basic element of free commerce," said symposium Chairman German Leiva, president & CEO of the Miami Free Zone. "The FTAA cannot achieve success if customs directors from each individual country are not in agreement."
Mr. Leiva kicked off the reception by tapping scissors against the glass jar of a candle to quiet the excited voices who command Western Hemispheric trade. He welcomed participants and introduced Leon Falic, president & CEO of From2.com and keynote speaker Katherine Harris, Florida’s secretary of state.
While leaning over the podium, Mr. Falic who said Miami is the gateway to the Americas told economic leaders they faced many challenges and opportunities in the e-trade business.
"Most companies are afraid of selling internationally over the Internet. We believe this is the future and will lead to greater prosperity throughout the US, which is the goal of this conference."
Helping cut the red ribbon to set the week in motion, Ms. Harris talked about her efforts to boost national prosperity, culminated by her attempt to make Miami the permanent home of the trade secretariat, which she says could make this city the Brussels of the Western Hemisphere.
Ms. Harris said jobs will skyrocket for whomever receives the headquarters for the 800 million person, $14 million trading block. She said she has fought since her election last year to keep the permanent secretariat out of Panama and Mexico City the other two possible sites. The temporary secretariat will move from Miami to Panama next year, when trade talks shift locations.
"When we originally accepted the responsibility of hosting the temporary secretariat, the foreign ministers were not pleased because it was not adequately funded," Ms. Harris said. "Through the creation of Team Florida FTAA, we were able to raise $600,000 and turned it around. Negotiations are on track. If we get the secretariat, Miami will be the national location for every company in the trading sector."
Ms. Harris said the US House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution designating Miami as its preferred location for the secretariat and with congressional backing, Florida’s role is to provide the services and hospitality to make customs leaders want to stay.
Meanwhile, customs officials say the symposium signifies democratic countries’ continued desire to cooperate, not only in dealing more effectively with international commerce but also in getting each other up to speed with efficient trade technology.
"The world is shrinking and borders are becoming a thing of the past," said Thomas Winkowsky, director of field operations for the Department of Treasury, US Customs. "The near future will spawn a total worldwide paperless economy. These forums are a reality check that it is going to happen and help us prepare to deal with the changes."