July 23, 2014

Florida Economy: Florida's Foreign Policy

Next month, trade ministers from Canada, the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean will meet in Cartagena, Colombia, to plot the steps in the hemisphere's march toward free trade by the year 2005. The meeting is part of what has become known as the "Miami Process," a planned series of discussions to achieve hemispheric free trade, the principal goal of the December 1994 Summit of the Americas in Miami.

The "Miami Process" has empowered the state's leaders to declare boldly that Florida is one of the few states in the U.S. with a foreign policy. Indeed, hemispheric free trade will further knit Florida into the economic and social fabric of the 400 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean.

How can a state such as Florida have a foreign policy? How might this policy be relevant to hemispheric integration?

First, Florida is one of the economic powers of the hemisphere, a fact that most Latin American and Caribbean countries already recognize. Second, with the exception of the Texas-Mexico trade relationship, Florida is the leading U.S. merchandise trade partner of every Latin American and Caribbean country. Florida airports and seaports are major hubs in most Latin American economies. As Florida's diversified services economy expands, it will export more services such as engineering, architecture and health care to our neighbors to the south. Finally, Florida has a growing list of cultural and educational activities and interests focused on Latin America and the Caribbean.

The "Miami Process" weighs heavily on Florida's future because it provides an action plan for promoting even closer working relations between Latin America and the U.S. This action plan is not just another charter for multilateral government diplomacy. Rather, it offers an opening to the hemispheric business community to play a key role in fostering enhanced economic trade and commercial activity.

Business leaders from the hemisphere will meet in Cartagena to develop recommendations to expand hemispheric trade just prior to the Hemispheric Trade Ministerial there on March 20-21. The purpose of this business forum is to identify obstacles and proposed solutions for the private sector to benefit from the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, which came out of the December 1994 Summit.

Questions have been raised about the direct benefits of the Summit for Florida, not just for the state but for its individual communities as well. At the state level, the Summit's "Plan of Action" has direct implications for the Florida business community.

One action item calls for the harmonization of customs and financial regulations throughout the Americas. These issues will be addressed at the Customs/ Trade/ Finance Symposium of the Americas, Feb. 25-27, in Miami.

Largely the brainchild of Miami international trade lawyer Lee Sandler, the symposium benefited from the efforts of a public-private coalition of organizations, including the Port of Miami, the U.S. Customs Service, the Florida International Banking Association and KPMG Peat Marwick LLP, among others. This symposium will build on a similar program held in advance of the 1994 Summit in Miami. The symposium's recommendations will be considered at the March ministerial meeting in Cartagena. The operative premise of the symposium: The quicker barriers to trade and financial transactions are eliminated, the better off the state will be.

Beyond the symposium, Lt. Governor Buddy MacKay's leadership in developing the Florida Partnership of the Americas (FPA) is important. It gives the state an agency that will help to ensure Florida's continued involvement in hemispheric integration. The Miami-based, not-for-profit organization's primary purpose is to keep this movement "on track."

Led by Susan Vodicka, who was chief of operations for the Summit, the FPA has played a key role in the development of the Business Forum for Hemispheric Integration. The forum brings together business-sector representatives from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean to advise governments on free trade policies.

The FPA also has taken a strong leadership role in bringing the Bolivar Program to Florida. This program, with ties to the Inter-American Development Bank, promotes joint venture investment and trade opportunities in the Americas. In addition, the FPA has provided quiet but much-needed technical assistance to Cartagena on managing large scale ministerial meetings.

At the community level, the very fact that the 1994 Summit was held in Miami should help communities around the state that are serious about extending their commercial reach. Orlando offers a case study.

"Having the Summit strengthened our [Orlando's] position in the hemisphere," says Hal Sumrall of the Economic Development Commission of Mid-Florida. "The Summit complemented what we are trying to do -- the higher the level of the relationship, the better the opportunity you will have in the long term."

Of course, Orlando has been blessed with strong leadership from both the public and private sectors. This leadership has fostered a can-do attitude in international trade that has translated into concrete benefits for the community.

Take Orlando's approach to Mexico, for example. Even in the face of growing tensions and hostility toward Mexico from Central Florida agricultural interests, Orlando has moved ahead in its relationship with Mexico, which has one of the largest economies in the hemisphere. First, Orlando opened an office in Mexico City to promote trade and tourism in Central Florida. Next, it convinced the government of Mexico to open a consular office in Orlando staffed by a full-time Mexican foreign service professional, Martin Torres. Then, city officials signed a sister-city relationship with the most important city in Mexico outside of the country's capital, Monterrey. Already the partnership with Monterrey has resulted in commercial exchange -- deals with Florida Hospital, Spillis Candela and Walt Disney World amounting to some $8 million.

Orlando's success with Mexico is not an accident. It is the result of a deliberate community-wide effort initiated by the Economic Development Commission of Mid-Florida in 1991 to raise the area's international profile. It builds on the 21st century reality of Florida that takes as a given the necessity of being internationally competitive in trade in goods and services. And it focuses on key markets that are logical for Florida. Orlando's aggressive approach to international competitiveness should serve as an example to other communities around the state wondering how the December 1994 Summit benefited them, if at all. Orlando can answer the question, largely because it has taken bold steps in the international arena completely independent of the Summit.

Regrettably, too few other communities in Florida can match Orlando's vision and action. If the state is to be a major beneficiary of the plan to integrate the hemisphere's economy by the year 2005, then aggressive efforts by the state and communities around Florida are needed. The Summit Action Plan and Orlando's bold effort to be competitive internationally offer guideposts that can help any community to measure its progress.

Mark B. Rosenberg is acting dean of the College of Urban and Public Affairs and director (on leave) of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University. He is a co- founder of the Summit of the Americas Center, at FIU.

Tags: Florida Small Business, Politics & Law, Business Florida

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