Gov. Bush names team to plan ministerial meeting, lure trade headquarters to Miami
By Susan Stabley
As Gov. Jeb Bush declared securing the headquarters for the Free Trade Area of the Americas a priority for his second term, he named local leaders to help make it a reality.
During an announcement of his vision for securing the FTAA and planning team for next fall's ministerial meeting of 34 countries in negotiation for the trade agreement, Gov. Bush said diversifying Florida's economy is one of his three highest priorities. In a memo accompanying that announcement, he wrote that the selection of Miami-Dade County as the site for the FTAA Secretariat "is precisely the type of project I have in mind to accomplish this priority."
To lead these efforts, Gov. Bush picked former US ambassador and Coral Gables developer Chuck Cobb to serve as chair of Florida FTAA Inc., a statewide non-profit based in Coral Gables that is promoting Miami-Dade to host the headquarters. Mr. Cobb will also head the steering committee for the fall ministerial gathering, which includes the Americas Business Forum and is an important step toward Miami becoming home to the trade headquarters.
"Bringing the permanent Secretariat of the FTAA to Florida will make our state an even greater player in international trade throughout the Americas," Gov. Bush said last week. "In order to win this coveted designation, it's essential that Florida speak with one voice. Ambassador Cobb, an international businessman who's served with distinction in two presidential administrations, is the perfect choice to lead this effort. He's committed to developing a statewide team to make our dream of hosting the permanent secretariat a reality."
Terms of the Free Trade Area of the Americas trade accord, set to eliminate quotes and tariffs, are currently being worked out, and the agreement would be signed by the 34 Western Hemisphere nations from Canada to Argentina except Cuba by late 2005. Each nation will have one vote in deciding where the treaty office headquarters will go.
Miami is vying for the secretariat, the permanent headquarters for trade federation business, against Atlanta; Houston; San Diego; Puebla, Mexico; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; and Panama City, Panama.
"Who's going to do what and when, that's the easy part," Mr. Cobb said. The challenge, he said, is getting all 34 countries to agree to the free trade agreement, as some of the poorer countries "don't totally understand all the advantages of free trade."
According to the governor's office, the free trade agreement, if approved, will affect an area of 800 million customers and a combined gross domestic product of $14 trillion, making it the largest trading block in the world.
"When the agreement is finally signed, I am very optimistic that Miami will be selected as the secretariat," Mr. Cobb said. "Logically, this is the best place for the secretariat, but there are a lot of hurdles to go."
"The challenges are many," he said. "We have to deal with the substance of 'why' this is the logical place: air traffic, telecom, and security issues, labor force, location, facility and connection the airport and infrastructure costs."
Mr. Cobb has served two presidents - as ambassador to Iceland for the governor's father and, in the Reagan administration, as undersecretary and assistant secretary at the US Department of Commerce with responsibilities for the nation's trade development, export promotion and international travel and tourism.
He is also CEO and a managing director of Coral Gables-based Cobb Partners Ltd., an investment firm with interests in real estate, international trade, resorts and tourism-related businesses. He has served as a member of the Disney Board of Directors and was chairman and chief executive officer of Arvida Corp. and Disney Development Co.
J. Antonio Villamil - chairman of the Governor's Council of Economic Advisors and CEO of the Washington Economics Group Inc. in Miami. - will continue as vice chair of Florida FTAA at Gov. Bush's request. Dr. Villamil was an undersecretary of commerce in the administration of former President George H. Bush.
Dr. Villamil said he was "very pleased" that Mr. Cobb will be the Florida FTAA chair and was honored to continue as vice chair. He described Mr. Cobb, whom he has known for 20 years, as a "very successful businessman" with "global and statewide contacts."
Gov. Bush also asked Mr. Cobb and Dr. Villamil to expand both the board and the fund-raising efforts of the Florida FTAA by calling on leaders throughout the state. Both Enterprise Florida and the Governor's Office of International Affairs have been called on to provide services for the Florida FTAA.
The Governor's Office of Tourism, Trade & Economic Development - which assists the governor in working with the legislature, state agencies and representatives of business and economic development engines - took over international affairs in September, including a satellite office in Coral Gables.
The state's international affairs division, with the Gables office run by Florida Undersecretary of State for International Affairs Hugh Simon, operates on a $3 million annual budget that includes Mr. Simon's and his assistant's salaries. Mr. Simon will now act as an adviser to the Florida FTAA efforts.
Gov. Bush also discussed Friday the creation of a temporary committee to prepare for November's trade ministerial meetings and America Business Forum with Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick.
Mr. Cobb will also chair that committee. A vice chair will be selected in coordination with the three mayors.
"We've got to get everybody on the same wavelength," said Mr. Cobb said. The day of his recommendation, he had already had the first of several meetings with the governor and three mayors.
Florida will get to spotlight itself as the proposed venue for the trade headquarters during the ministerial meetings and America's Business Forum. Those pushing for a Miami-Dade site hope the area's economic, cultural, historical and political linkages to Latin America and the Caribbean will bolster its chances.
"We're in the driver's seat. It's ours to lose. We need to make every effort," said Dr. Villamil. "We've got to showcase our brand and continue to push hard for the FTAA to become a reality."
Gov. Bush recommended a 10- to 15-person board or steering committee be established consisting of three to four representatives from the governor's office, Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami, Coral Gables, and other possible South Florida counties or cities.
He also suggested that Mayor Penelas, in consultation with the other mayors, select the committee vice chairman. Among those Gov. Bush recommended for that job are four former US ambassadors: Luis Lauredo, Paul Cejas, Simon Ferro and Ambler Moss, all of whom served in Democratic administrations and currently live in Miami-Dade County.
Dr. Pamella Dana, director of the Governor's Office of Tourism, Trade, and Economic Development, and Mr. Cobb are to meet with the three mayors' staffs to develop an agreement on the structure and the selection of the executive director of the ministerial meeting and Americas Business Forum, the president of Americas Business Forum as well as housing, security and support functions. This meeting is to be held before a planned Jan. 22 meeting with Office of the US Trade Representatives in Miami.
Gov. Bush wrote in his letter to the three mayors that bringing the FTAA Secretariat to Miami-Dade County "must be a partnership between my administration, Enterprise Florida, Miami-Dade County, the local governments in South Florida, the Office of the US Trade Representatives, and the private sector of Florida," but added that he planned "to take the lead in this partnership."
The Governor proposes to meet with the ministers of FTAA nations and promote Miami-Dade County as the secretariat site. Gov. Bush also wrote that he would encourage the Office of the US Trade Representatives to support only the Miami-Dade site.
Gov. Bush also plans to persuade Florida's congressional delegation to appropriate funds for an FTAA secretariat bid, encourage Enterprise Florida to make this site selection one of its highest priorities, and direct his administration to make this site selection a high priority, adding in his letter to the three mayors that: "I plan to spend more time during the next four years in Miami-Dade County, and you can be assured that I am going to be actively involved in this important effort working closely with you."