Mexico seeks Florida's hand to boost economic development
By Paola Iuspa
Mexico's consul general and trade commissioner say President Vicente Fox wants to strengthen commercial ties with Florida and make it an important player in the economic development plan for his country.
Manuel Rodriguez Arriaga, Mexico's consul general in Miami, said he met privately with Mr. Fox last week while the president was here for the conference on the Americas. Mr. Rodriguez Arriaga said they spent most of the time talking about the need for strengthening economic relations while using Florida as the springboard to Latin American and Caribbean markets.
"We haven't done it before because Florida has always looked south for trading partners. Also because Mexico has had a tendency to trade with US's border states such as California and Texas. But in recent years, Mexico has started to diversify its industries and established strong relations with other US states."
Trade Commissioner Jose Antonio Rivas, who was transferred a week ago from New York, said boosting commerce and investment between Mexico and Florida was long overdue. Mr. Rivas said his goal is to increase trade at least 13%.
Mr. Rodriguez Arriaga said both partners have increased trading activities during the past three years. Mexico represents the fastest-growing market for Florida's exports and is the third-largest importer of Florida-origin products, he said.
Florida exports to Mexico went from $2.1 billion in 1998 to $1.6 million in 2000 while imports went from $1.2 million in 1998 to $682.6 million in 2000, according to a report by Enterprise Florida.
But trade between Florida and Mexico has not been as good as it could be, President Fox said. Although the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement brought prosperity to Mexico and the US, he said, not all US states had benefited equally.
"Mexico needs to take advantage of Miami's platform, the capital of the Americas," President Fox said. "I hope we can work together."
Mr. Rodriguez Arriaga said the president sees Florida as an important component of his Puebla-Panama plan, an agreement between that city and seven Central American nations, aimed at bringing jobs there.
"Mr. Fox is proposing to establish a regional alliance between Florida and Mexico to help promote trade to Latin America," he said. "Both regions have geographic, economic, historic and cultural similarities."
He said Florida, with strong connections to Latin America and the trading logistics in place, could play an important role in bringing economic development to the Southeast of Mexico and Central America.
He said Mr. Fox was enthusiastic about creating a maritime connection to link South Florida, an international distribution center and the Yucatan Peninsula, home to Cancun and Cozumel, an agricultural region with growing industrial and tourist sectors.
The Fox government has a vision and places Florida under a different light, said Mr. Rodriguez Arriaga, who started his Miami term in April.
"He wants to re-imagine our presence in this part of the US," he said. "We are also restructuring the consulate and its functions."