34 Florida delegates heading to Ecuador to lobby for trade headquarters for Western Hemisphere
By Susan Stabley
A delegation led by Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas will get first shot at wooing the headquarters for a major free trade organization by hosting breakfast for more than 100 Latin American and Caribbean representatives this weekend in Quito, Ecuador.
US rival Atlanta, giving the proposal the same gusto as its pitch for the 1996 Olympics, will serve up its bid for the permanent office for the Free Trade Area of the Americas later that day at a luncheon.
The Free Trade Area of the Americas is a proposed federation that would create a free zone among countries in the Western Hemisphere. The treaty would remove trade barriers such as tariffs and quotas to allow a free flow of exports from Canada to Argentina, with the exception of Cuba.
The delegations will descend on an event called the American Business Forum, held Oct. 29-31, where representatives of 34 countries discuss proposals and recommendations for the trade ministers' consideration. This is where US delegates can influence other countries on issues such as increased protection of intellectual property rights to reduce black market goods.
The forum, at Quito's Swiss Hotel, allows for an "organized form of lobbying," said Hugh Simon, the Florida undersecretary of state for international affairs. The big prize is the secretariat, the FTAA's headquarters, where all business will be held for the trade federation - though that decision will not be made at this forum.
Miami was a temporary home for FTAA talks from September 1998 to February 2001 before they moved to Panama. In 2003, FTAA talks move again for a two-year term to Mexico before the FTAA, if approved, settles into a yet-to-be chosen permanent home. Also competing for that are Houston; San Diego; Puebla, Mexico; the Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago; and Panama City, Panama.
Mr. Simon expects a decision by January 2005. Each nation must ratify or reject the agreement by December 2005.
Pushing for South Florida is a Coral Gables-based non-profit called Florida FTAA. Heavyweight members bolster the Miami's contingent, including economist Tony Villamil and former US ambassador to the Organization of the American States Luis Lauredo.
Dr. Villamil, also CEO of The Washington Economics Group, served as US undersecretary of commerce for economic affairs in the administration of President George Bush from 1989 to 1993 and was director of Gov. Jeb Bush's Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development. He now chairs the Governor's Council of Economic Advisors.
Other players include officials from Miami-Dade County, City of Miami, World Trade Center Miami, Miami International Airport, Florida Department of State, Florida International University, the universities of Tampa and Florida, plus a handful of representative from private groups. In all, 34 people representing South Florida will attend.
The next major FTAA meeting is likely to be held in Greater Miami in late 2003, which may put Atlanta at a disadvantage. But for now, the focus is on Wednesday's ministerial meeting in Quito.
That breakfast presentation at Alamada Plaza Hotel is being sponsored by state economic development agency Enterprise Florida, the Stanford Group and FedEx, and will feature the first presentation of a conceptual design of the proposed headquarters for the FTAA, should it land in Miami-Dade. University of Miami architecture professor Jorge Hernandez created the design, with a rendering by fellow professor Tom Spain.
Mr. Hernandez, at UM 15 years, who had designed the new county courthouse in Williamsburg, VA, said he designed a 25,000- to 30,000-square-foot stone and stucco structure to represent the "hemispheric characteristics of the Americas."
Parking would be inside the first floor, which also doubles as a raised section that "holds up" the building. The proposed headquarters has a patio-style courtyard that acts as a sculpture gallery. Surrounding it is a series of arcades that give way to other meeting rooms.
"At the end will be a ceremonial room for the most important of meetings," Mr. Hernandez said.
Anchoring the front is an eight-story office tower, he said. A grand staircase leads up to where two Greek temples "book end" the building and outside a platform will have the flags of participating nations.
"The book-end temples are from the Greek revival of North America and of civic iconography," Mr. Hernandez said. "We'll use Florida coral stone, which is tied to the region."
A local site has not been selected but the preferred location is in downtown Miami. Plans call for financial aid from the business community and federal, state and local governments to pay for construction, estimated at $40 million to $60 million.
Complicating the Miami application is the Atlanta group, led by Mayor Shirley Franklin and a bevy of corporate bigwigs. The Atlanta Constitution -Journal reported that BellSouth and the law firm of Kilpatrick Stockton covered most of that city's $80,000 public relations expense, including CD-ROMs about the area.
But Mr. Simon said there's really no contest whether Miami will prevail.
"It's the obvious place to hold the secretariat," he said. "We have the conditions here. We are the trading capital of the Americas. We have the infrastructure. Culturally and socially, this is the place to be. We don't feel any competition with Atlanta on these points.
"People are accustomed to living the international life here."