Florida team in Venezuela to lobby for trade headquarters
By Paola Iuspa
Trying to emphasize Florida's commitment to free trade and Miami's interest in housing headquarters for a proposed commerce treaty, Florida officials and local entrepreneurs are in Venezuela today (4/25).
The contingent will be lobbying the trade negotiating committee of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA. The group is meeting to fine-tune a proposed pact that, if approved, would remove tariff and non-tariff trade barriers in the 34 participating countries in the Western Hemisphere, excluding Cuba.
Members of Florida FTAA Inc., a Coral Gables nonprofit representing public and private sectors supporting the proposal, will be host for a luncheon for the heads of the negotiating committee, meeting in Margarita, Venezuela, through Friday, said Inés Calderón, the local group's executive director.
Florida Undersecretary of State for International Affairs Hugh Simon and Ms. Calderon will be there on behalf of the state, said Tony Villamil, one of the group's co-chairs, but are not allowed to participate in the negotiations.
"We want to be actively represented there," said Mr. Villamil, president and CEO of Washington Economics Group in Coral Gables. "The idea is to create good will, maintain Florida's presence and show interest in the FTAA."
Vice ministers representing 34 countries and each of the six trade pact's negotiating groups, ranging from agriculture and investment to government procurement and dispute settlement, will be continuing the negotiations started in 1994.
The trade negotiating committee, which guides the work of the six groups and the architecture of the proposed agreement, will set the climate for a larger negotiating round planned for October.
The Free Trade Area of the Americas' VII Business Forum of the Americas from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 in Quito, Ecuador, will give the business community the chance to analyze the proposed agreement and make recommendations. The Free Trade Area of the Americas proposal has a self-imposed deadline of 2005.
While the Florida delegation is not involved in the negotiation process for the trade agreement, they will use the event to meet with the participating vice ministers to promote Miami as the permanent site for Free Trade Area of the Americas secretariat. Panama City and Mexico City also are being considered as homes for the headquarters, Ms. Calderón said.
Citizens for International Trade Initiative Inc., a one-year-old nonprofit group run by young professionals, is working with Florida FTAA to sell Miami as the best location for the secretariat, said Gerald Duty, group's founder and a partner with the law firm Vilar Duty & Montero in Miami.
"We are a grass-roots organization trying to get citizens involved in the process," he said.
Mr. Duty said his group created a 5-minute promotional video meant to sell Miami as the best place for the headquarters. The city's geographic location, direct flights to many corners in Latin America and a multicultural environment are some topics highlighted in the video.
"We are trying to get the video into local television stations, chambers of commerce" and other trade-related organizations, Mr. Duty said.
"Miami, the Gateway to the Americas: the Ideal Location for the Permanent Secretariat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas " video will be shown in English, Spanish and Portuguese at 6 pm April 25 in the Biltmore Executive Center at the Biltmore Hotel, he said.
Florida FTAA Inc. is also lobbying in Washington, DC, for the passage of trade promotion authority, or fast track. The bill would authorize the president to negotiate trade agreements and limit Congress's role to approving or rejecting the deal but not amending it. In that way, negotiations would move faster because each country would not have to bargain for individual congressional votes.
The group has also helped stage trade talks for bilateral trade treaties between the US and Chile and plans to sponsor trade talks for the Caribbean nations, some trying to reach trade accords with the states, said Shanker Singham, international trade attorney with Steel Hector & Davis and a group member. Florida FTAA has a $300,000 annual budget, with $200,000 coming from the state and the remaining from the private sector, said Ms. Calderón.
"To gain other nations' support," Mr. Singham said, "we need to show we are concerned about trade issues that Latin American countries are concerned about, like the Andean Trade Preference Act," referring to a recently expired 1991 law. He said the Andean act provided preferential trade benefits to Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, and those nations are seeking a renewal of that treaty from Congress.
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