Scott to lead 150 on Colombia mission
By Scott Blake
South Florida's Manny Mencia and friends are hoping to seize the moment in Colombia.
No, they're not plotting a revolution — at least not the kind with soldiers and guns.
Instead, they'll go down there with business suits and briefcases blazing, marching alongside Gov. Rick Scott and others from Florida business and government.
Their mission is a trade mission. Their purpose: capitalize on the new US-Colombia free trade agreement and increase commerce between Florida and Colombia.
As usual for this sort of excursion, Greater Miami and South Florida are expected to be heavily represented. The main destination is the Colombian capital of Bogotá, from Dec. 2 through 5.
Mr. Mencia, senior vice president for international business development for Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development agency, is putting together the details from his office in Coral Gables.
He's being assisted by his colleague, Juliana Pena, the agency's manager of Latin America and Caribbean international trade and development.
There's plenty to be done. They have to line up which businesses will go, how much they will pay, and how much assistance they will need once in Colombia. They foresee about 150 people going.
Some of them will stay around for the group events but otherwise make up their own itineraries. Others will want translators, business meetings and other details set up for them.
Serving as figurehead for the Team Florida Trade Mission will be the governor, who sells the trip this way in a letter to business leaders:
"The mission will include networking events designed to connect the companies with top level Colombian corporate and government leaders, and one-to-one business matchmaking to set the stage for the marketing and sales efforts between the Florida and Colombia businesses."
Enterprise Florida and the governor's office have been organizing trade missions abroad for years. And it won't be the first mission to Colombia. Mr. Mencia says he's been there so many times he has lost count.
But this time is different, he says, in the sense that the free agreement trade has opened up the Colombian market more to US businesses, including many in Florida already with ties there. Eliminating tariffs for US products in Colombia is hoped to work wonders for commerce.
Florida already has a lot to work with. Colombia is Miami's second-largest foreign trading partner, behind only Brazil.
The governor says statewide trade with Colombia totaled $9 billion last year, and it is among the top five destinations for Florida products, amounting to nearly $3 billion a year in exports. Most of that trade comes through Miami's customs district.
Aside from the lower trade barriers and established ties with Florida, Mr. Mencia says Colombia also has become a safer and more secure place to conduct business. Colombia now has the third-largest economy in Central and South America.
With that growth, Mr. Mencia says, comes the need for a whole slew of products and services — many of which could be provided by companies in the Sunshine State.
For example, he says, medical equipment, information technology systems, communications and transportation infrastructure and equipment, security equipment and products, automotive parts, and a host of professional services — in engineering, banking and finance, marketing and advertising and other fields — are needed.
"Colombia is already an enormous market for Florida," he adds.
Supporters of the free trade agreement say Colombian authorities have taken sufficient steps to stem violence and human rights abuses there. US labor unions had opposed the agreement, citing attacks against labor union activists and other workers there.
Mr. Mencia, however, says conditions have settled down in Colombia and, as a result, "they've been recipients of higher levels of business investment there."
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