New Leadership On The Way For Floridas Free Trade Initiatives
By Susan Stabley
New leaders within weeks will take the helms of the Florida group lobbying to bring the headquarters of the Free Trade Area of the Americas to Greater Miami and of the related American Business Forum.
Gov. Jeb Bush and his transition task force are culling candidates to chair Florida FTAA and to be president and executive secretary of this year’s Americas Business Forum – already scheduled for Miami.
Ultimately, trustees of Florida FTAA, a Coral Gables-based non-profit promoting the area for headquarters, will name its chief, said Hugh Simon, Florida undersecretary of state for international affairs, but "the governor’s view is of fundamental importance. He will name some very significant people."
Florida FTAA had been led by Katherine Harris, who resigned for a successful run for Congress. Interim chair was J. Antonio Villamil, vice president of the group, chairman of Gov. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors and CEO of the Coral Gables-based Washington Economics Group.
The 34 Western Hemisphere nations from Canada to Argentina minus Cuba need to sign the trade agreement by late 2005. Each country gets one vote on a headquarters site, which local supporters say will make that city the Brussels of the Americas, referring to the Belgium city well-known as NATO headquarters.
Miami is vying to be home to the secretariat, permanent headquarters for trade federation business, once a deal to eliminate quotas and tariffs is final. Competitors are Atlanta; Houston; San Diego; Puebla, Mexico; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; and Panama City, Panama.
Next fall’s eighth Americas Business Forum is to recommend steps to the countries’ trade ministers and is considered a key step in Miami’s bid for the permanent headquarters. The forum president will be directly involved in fund-raising, Mr. Simon said, and is "likely to be from South Florida" and "definitely from Florida."
This week, more than 200 state business leaders met at the "International State of the State 2002" in Tampa to prepare for the trade accord. The next step, Mr. Simon said, is to establish the FTAA and business forum’s leadership structure.