Miami stumps for trade zone headquarters

By Timothy J. Gibbons
Published by Florida Times-Union on November 22, 2003.

MIAMI -- Stressing its reputation as the "Gateway to the Americas," Miami took the next step on Friday in its bid to house the headquarters of a proposed hemisphere-wide free-trade zone.

The city unveiled a capabilities study following a week-long meeting to discuss the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement, which would lower trade barriers between 34 countries in North, Central and South America.

Jacksonville could benefit if Miami is selected, officials here said, but could also see a boost if Atlanta, one of the other competitors, lands the headquarters.

In its study, Miami touted things like the number of flights from the city to other countries in the free-trade zone in an attempt to make the city attractive to negotiators. The city housing the secretariat -- headquarters for the organization that would implement the trade area -- would be expected to reap jobs, foreign investment and other economic benefits.

These benefits would ripple across the region, officials said, with service providers such as international lawyers setting up shop throughout the state and port cities like Jacksonville becoming more attractive to shippers familiar with the state.

"Jacksonville has long wanted to be a player in the international arena," said Frank Nero, president of Miami's economic development organization and a former deputy mayor of Jacksonville. "This would brand the state of Florida, and Jacksonville can tap into that."

Secretary of State Glenda Hood compared housing the secretariat to having NASA and Disney set up shop in the state in previous decades. "This will change the face of Florida," she said.

If the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement is passed and the secretariat is located in Miami, Enterprise Florida estimates the Sunshine State would see 89,259 new jobs boosting payrolls by $3.2 million a year, generating a $13.6 billion jump in Florida's gross state product and $157 million in taxes.

Atlanta officials said Jacksonville's proximity to Georgia, however, makes the First Coast a winner even if Miami's bid doesn't succeed.

"I think it would be very positive for you," said Carlos Martel, deputy commissioner for Georgia's international trade division. "I would argue that Jacksonville's benefit would be even more significant if the secretariat comes to Atlanta."

Because of geography, the Jacksonville economy is more affected by the Georgia economy than are other cities in Florida, Martel said.

"You have more in common with Brunswick than with Miami," he said.

Atlanta has prepared a similar capabilities study, which will be revised in light of guidelines released by negotiators on Thursday. That report might be released in coming months, or will simply be submitted to the negotiators in February.

In all, 10 cities jumped into the race by the Thursday deadline, including some unexpected wildcards. In addition to Miami and Atlanta, competitors include: Chicago; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Houston and Galveston, in Texas; Cancun and Puebla, in Mexico; Panama City, Panama; and Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

Although rumored to be interested in being the headquarters site, Brazil, which co-chaired this week's meetings to negotiate the trade agreement, and Puerto Rico did not enter bids.

In February, the 10 cities will make presentations to negotiators during their meeting in Mexico, and, on March 1, will submit a full proposal. The decision is expected to be announced when the trade agreement is finalized late next year or early 2005.

The tenor of this week's events are sure to help Miami's bid, officials said. Earlier in the week, talks appeared stalled but they later regained enough momentum to see a watered-down version of a free-trade agreement reached. Outside the hotels where negotiators met, thousands of protestors took to the streets, resulting in some 150 arrests, police said, but no serious injuries on either side.

That was good news for Miami officials. "We were only involved because we want the secretariat here and we deserve it here," said Luis Lauredo, who was in charge of the week's meetings.


This is a showcase of the work done by Timothy J. Gibbons during a journalism career now stretching back more than a decade.

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