FTAA supporters will ask US to back one city for secretariat
By Susan Stabley
Leaders lobbying to bring a proposed trade headquarters to South Florida are renewing their push this week for the federal government to back a single city now that competition has grown to seven US cities.
Eleven cities across the hemisphere are vying to be home to the secretariat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a proposed pact that would open a common market among 34 nations in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Only Cuba would be excluded from the trade zone that would affect 800 million consumers if it is approved by Dec. 31, 2004.
Miami's main rival is Panama City, Panama, said Florida FTAA Executive Director Jorge Arrizurieta. Other non-US cities placing bids are Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, and two in Mexico - Puebla and Cancun.
Miami officials think their chances are diluted by bids from other US cities - Atlanta; Chicago; Colorado Springs; Houston; Galveston, Texas; and latecomer San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Mr. Arrizurieta said his team wants to know how and when the US will endorse a city. Mr. Arrizurieta, Florida FTAA Chairman Chuck Cobb and Secretary of State Glenda Hood plan to meet with White House officials in Washington today.
"What we are trying to do is push the envelope on the US to pick a city," Mr. Arrizurieta said Tuesday.
The cities vying to host the headquarters have until March 1 to make a pitch to trade ministers, who must agree by consensus on the location of the secretariat.
The timing is ideal, Mr. Arrizurieta said, because Miami just wrapped up its hosting duties last month for the Americas Business Forum and an FTAA ministerial meeting.
During the meetings, trade ministers released a wish list of what they want from cities vying for the headquarters. The site will be chosen based on transportation systems, hotel accommodations, telecommunications, security, human resources, quality of life and other issues, according to the negotiations committee.
Miami will present its qualifications in February during a negotiations committee meeting in Puebla. Gov. Jeb Bush and representatives of Enterprise Florida, the state's economic-development arm, will lead the delegation.
Ideally, the US will come out in support of one city before the presentation, Mr. Arrizurieta said. Otherwise, Miami must face competition from within its own national borders.
A spokeswoman for the team pushing Atlanta said its leaders will make a presentation in Puebla and are scheduled to be in Washington this week as well.
Florida FTAA will resume its missions abroad to promote Miami, Mr. Arrizurieta said. A series of trips to lobby support among nations in the FTAA was suspended during planning for the Miami ministerial.
Still to be determined is the location of a secretariat if South Florida is chosen. Although Mr. Arrizurieta said Miami is the likely location, a process was opened Monday for other cities in the region to submit proposals through Dec. 19. Opening the opportunity to cities outside of Miami, he said, is "the right thing to do."