Organization of American States to meet again in Gables
By Samantha Joseph
The second meeting of the Organization of American States and South Florida business leaders in Coral Gables will deal with free trade and port security, organizer Stephen Albee said Monday.
The session, planned for mid-June, is to feature about 50 companies and a roundtable discussion on the likelihood of implementing a free-trade agreement among all countries in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba by next year and a talk on port security.
"An awful lot of discussion this time was about the (Free Trade Area of the Americas)," Mr. Albee said after the first of about 18 planned sessions took place Friday at the Omni Colonnade Hotel in Coral Gables. Organizers - including the University of Florida and the Summit of the Americas Secretariat - expect to host more than a dozen local meetings with the OAS in the next two years.
"The focus of this past one was so strong that we felt it would be worthwhile to do the next one strictly focusing on the (FTAA)," he said.
The FTAA is a proposed trade agreement that would give equal treatment to goods from all participating countries. All democratic nations in the hemisphere are involved in negotiating a treaty. The OAS is a 35-member international organization that focuses on several issues including free trade.
"What we found out is that the private sector has not been able to comment on what's happening in the FTAA, and consequently, the process is at risk," said Mr. Albee, Coral Gables' business-development administrator.
He said that by facilitating discussions with executives and negotiators involved in the FTAA talks, South Florida FTAA delegates could use the feedback to gauge private-sector opinion and address impediments to the treaty.
Organizers plan to invite representatives from Brazil and Argentina - countries that have voiced strong objection to the FTAA - to the June OAS meeting. They also hope to add Florida citrus and sugar producers to an 11-person panel set to discuss free trade.
Citrus and sugar "seem to be the two main issues that may derail the whole thing," Mr. Albee said.
About 110 people attended last week's invitation-only event, and organizers expect at least 150 for the next session. They said they will allow extensive interaction among panelists, experts and audience members.
"What we learned from the process is that dialogue is what people want," Mr. Albee said. "They don't to have someone come up and give a speech."
In a letter Monday to Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick, Jerry Haar - business professor at Florida International University who was senior research associate at the North-South Center, a public-policy think tank - praised the effort to stimulate discussion on major international events.
"I go to lots of events in town as attendee or speaker, and I can assure you that Friday's event was not the usual affair," Mr. Haar wrote. "I and others who care so much about our community and our commercial and social relationships with our Western Hemisphere eagerly look forward to other events of the kind."