Trade conference to cost $11 million, but Miami relishes chance to shine
By Susan Stabley
The Americas Business Forum and free-trade ministerial meetings scheduled for November in Miami will cost about $11 million, but the city is excited for the chance to show off as the potential home base for the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
The proposed Free Trade Area would eliminate quotas and tariffs among countries in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba.
With the city in the spotlight, it is critical for the November conferences, precursors to establishing the FTAA, to run smoothly if the home base, or secretariat, is to be placed in South Florida.
The business forum will begin Nov. 17 at James L. Knight Center, the related ministerial meeting will follow Nov. 20-21 at the Inter-Continental Miami.
The last business forum, in Ecuador, drew 850 participants, said Miami-Dade County spokesman Hernando Vergara. Because of Miami's tourism appeal, he expects more than 1,500, not including protesters.
"We are going to have people attend with the sole purpose of protesting and creating problems. ... Demonstrators have shown up at every meeting the FTAA has had," he said.
A group is seeking access to Bayfront Amphitheater Nov. 19-20 for a protest rally, Miami police said.
Government agencies have still to determine how they will pay for the events. Mario Artecona, Miami Business Forum executive director, is coordinating private-sector fund-raising. The goal is $1.5 million, he said, for non-police costs such as receptions.
"We're treating this like a civic event or a Super Bowl," he said. "Miami-Dade has to throw a great party to impress these folks and reinforce that Miami is where the secretariat belongs."
Other possible secretariat sites are Atlanta; Puebla, Mexico; the Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; and Panama City, Panama.
Winning the headquarters is among what Gov. Jeb Bush's staff refers to as BHAG's - "big hairy audacious goals," said Pamella Dana, director of the governor's Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development.
Many say Miami's chances of securing the permanent secretariat hinge on the city's ability to pull off this fall's ministerial events. The efforts are being supported by a coalition of South Florida governments that includes Miami-Dade County and the cities of Miami, Coral Gables and Miami Beach.
Major operational efforts have been handled by the county, which has provided services and staff to handle media and public relations, coordinate logistical planning and set up a web site, http://www.miamiftaa2003.com, Vergara said.
Weekly meetings are planned and, with seven months to go, pieces have begun to fall into place, he said.
Events will be held with the private sector, and entertainment venues should get a boost from the visitors. Public-relations firms will be enlisted to assist, and a company may be hired to recruit volunteer workers. "Volunteers are going to be a key element," Mr. Vergara said.
Two media rooms will likely be set up - requiring 30 staffers for each, he said. The event also will require several translators. The official languages of the ABF are English and Spanish, and Portuguese will also be spoken at the FTAA because Brazil is a leader in negotiations with the US.
Coordinating much of the planning is director of operations Ana Gutierrez, a Miami-Dade official in charge of logistics. A host committee includes Bill Talbert of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, Dorothy Baker of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, Frank Nero of the Beacon Council.
Manny Mencia of Enterprise Florida leads a subcommittee that will organize meetings among visiting business leaders and local representatives Nov. 20 at the Hyatt Regency Miami.
"It's for delegates from Latin America and the Caribbean to make meaningful business contact with Florida and US companies," he said. "We hope as many as 100 companies will want to take advantage of this opportunity. We want to send a very strong message, that this is the business capital of the Americas."
Charlotte Gallogly, president of World Trade Center Miami said the Nov. 20 event will be a great opportunity for forum attendees to connect with local exporters and importers.
The goal of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas to increase political, economic and cultural connections among the US and the entire region - opening the largest free-trade area in the world with gross domestic product of more than $14 trillion and 800 million consumers, according to Gov. Bush's office.
International trade revenue in Florida is expected to reach $130 billion by 2005 even without the expected benefits of an FTAA treaty, expected to be signed by the end of that year.
Dozens of groups and committees have been created to funnel monetary and material contributions to the efforts. One of the most prominent and influential is the Florida FTAA board of trustees, whose members have given $10,000 a year as well as set policy direction.
The board chairman, former ambassador Chuck Cobb, has been designated by the state as the point man for all efforts. Jorge Arrizurieta has been named the non-profit group's executive director.
Preparations for the forum and ministerial meetings is led by Luis Laredo, former ambassador to the Organization of American States.
Broward and Palm Beach counties have also joined in efforts. Political leaders in the tri-county area will attend a dinner May 29 coordinated by the International Business Council of South Florida.