US to needs to promote single site to win free trade area headquarters, ambassador says
By Susan Stabley
US policymakers need to unite behind a single city as its candidate for a future Free Trade Area of the Americans headquarters, says Ambassador Chuck Cobb, the chairman in charge of a statewide group pushing to bring the proposed office to Miami.
Miami is competing for the secretariat of the FTAA - home office of a proposed trade area that could eliminate quotas and tariffs among 34 Western Hemisphere nations from Canada to Argentina, with the exception of Cuba. Other sites in contention are: Atlanta; Puebla, Mexico; the Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; and Panama City, Panama.
Mr. Cobb underscored the dangers of dividing the country's labors to obtain the headquarters during a breakfast briefing Friday by the Florida FTAA with speaker Grant Aldonas, undersecretary for the International Trade Administration in the US Commerce Department.
"It is critical for the US to pick one city," said Mr. Cobb, comparing the drive for the FTAA headquarters to US efforts to win an Olympics or World Cup venue. Each nation will have one vote in deciding where the headquarters will go.
But unlike a major international event that will bring a flurry of attention, money and people for a short period before departing, the FTAA is expected to increase the political, economic and cultural connections between Florida, the US and the entire region, opening up the largest free trade area in the world with a total gross domestic product of more than $14 trillion and 800 million consumers, according to the governor's office.
International trade revenue in Florida is expected to reach $130 billion by 2005 even without the expected benefits of an FTAA treaty, which is expected to be signed by the end of that year.
Overlapping efforts among US cities could weaken the nation's chances and split the vote. Mr. Cobb said Miami would support Atlanta, or Houston, if that what was best for the nation within the framework of obtaining the secretariat and securing the treaty.
Houston was again invoked as a possible candidate for the contest to win the trade headquarters amid conjecture that its bid is waiting in the wings and would be bolster by the fact that President Bush once was Texas governor.
However, a spokesman with the Greater Houston Partnership, a regional business advocate that advances international trade, on Friday denied any possibility that the city is interested. Talk of Houston's interest is occasionally raised, partnership spokesman David McCollum said, but only in inquiries by the press. Internally, he said, there are no plans to move forward on such a bid.
Speculation may have been spurred by Houston's pursuit and plans to host this fall a round of negotiations for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), a separate accord that would expand the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, to Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
Miami will face a brighter spotlight hosting a major round of ministerial meetings for the FTAA as well as the Eighth Americas Business Forum in November.
More than 5,000 people are expected to come to Miami during the one-week event, not counting any who come to oppose the FTAA. Thousands of anti-globalization protesters may flock to Miami in a fashion similar to unruly demonstrations seen during a 1999 World Trade Organization gathering in Seattle and in 2000 during a meeting of the World Bank in Washington, a situation for which the Miami Police Department has already begun preparations.
Mr. Cobb said his organization continues to advocate Miami as a location, during meetings with US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, other officials and within a few family connections - he said Gov. Jeb Bush also pushes Miami to his brother, President George W. Bush.
The FTAA is not far from the minds of area politicians. At Miami-Dade County Day, a gathering of local leaders and county legislators in Tallahassee last week, the FTAA was on "the tips of everyone's lips," said Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick.
Miami Mayor Manny Diaz last month highlighted FTAA efforts during his State of the City address: "I can think of no other project in our city's history that will create the greatest long-term economic impact. Published studies indicate that the FTAA may represent up to $500 million in economic impact and over 16,000 high paying jobs," he said.
Undersecretary Aldonas praised the group on Miami's strong showing thus far, especially in its efforts to promote the area at FTAA-related gatherings here and abroad.
Miami and its business community, he said, represent the "best possible face for our efforts... of what we are trying to present to the world."