The Global State
Back and forth: How policy changes will impact international trade in Florida
International trade expert Lee Sandler talks about the effects trade policy changes will have on Florida.
In 1969, Lee Sandler was fresh out of law school from New York University and going into a job he says he didn’t want.
The U.S. Department of Justice had hired him for its Customs litigation section, but he wanted to work in its civil appellate division. There had been no openings, he was told, and he could try again next year.
Next year came and went, however, and Sandler stayed put. “I was traveling all over the country, trying cases. I also got to argue appeals in the court of appeals for the federal circuit in Washington, D.C.,” he says. “I enjoyed myself. And by accident, I learned an area of law I’d never studied or thought about before.”
Sandler ended up defending Customs duty determinations for six years. He then took his expertise to a New York law firm, where he met another lawyer, Tom Travis. Together, they struck out on their own after two years, setting up practice in New York and Miami. Sandler, who grew up in Coral Gables, recalls that Miami was fertile ground for an international trade lawyer in 1977.
“There were small firms scattered around the country doing this type of work, but they were primarily in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles — and maybe two guys up in Boston,” he says.
Sandler has since developed a reputation as one of the nation’s preeminent international trade lawyers, helping U.S. importers and exporters navigate a changing regulatory environment.He recently spoke with Florida Trend about what to look for in trade policy changes and the potential impact on Florida businesses.
Forty-five years ago, international trade litigation revolved around a single body of law — the 1930 Tariff Act, which “already was 39 years old,” he says. “And when you did your research, you realized it was the same as the 1922 act, the same as the 1913 act and the 1898 act. Since 1969, we like to describe international trade as going from playing checkers to playing three-dimensional chess. We have dozens of free-trade agreements, none of which are consistent in their language, and all of which interrelate in some way. It’s more complicated, but it creates a lot more opportunities.”
Proximity to Latin America
Florida’s proximity to factories in Latin America could open up new trade opportunities as U.S. manufacturers rethink their global supply chains amid rising labor costs in China. One solution is to export raw materials from Florida to Latin America and “import back” completed goods, a practice known as “near-sourcing.” Sandler says manufacturers can more easily control operations closer to home. “The trend to go to China or Asia isn’t over. There are strong economic reasons for doing that,” he says. “But there are other reasons for near-sourcing, and Florida can truly take advantage of that.”
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), currently being negotiated between the U.S. and “The trend to go to China or Asia isn’t over. There are strong economic reasons for doing that.” — Lee Sandler European Union, also could open up more E.U. government contracts to American bids, generating new business for Florida firms. “Our goal is to stop them from imposing standards that won’t allow our goods and services into their countries,” he says.
Closing the import gap
Florida consumes more imports than it brings in through its airports and seaports. A case in point is fresh fruits from South America, which bypass Florida and enter the U.S. through northern ports to comply with federal regulations. Those bound for Florida are then transferred by truck down the East Coast. “Historically, it was believed they might be host materials for fruit flies,” a threat to Florida’s citrus industry, he says. But that was many years ago, when perishables “moved on open pallets.” Today, they travel in refrigerated containers and are less susceptible to pests. “Technology has changed the situation.”
Sandler has helped implement a pilot program that allows some fruits from Peru and Uruguay to enter Florida through the Port Miami and Port Everglades. “The test has been declared a success,” he says. “We’re now talking about expanding the number of products and countries of origin for next season, which begins around March or April.”
Sandler also is involved in an effort called the International Trade Data System to modernize communications between importers and exporters and an array of government regulatory agencies. The goal is to create a “single window” where companies can electronically submit all their information.“Don’t fill out 40 pieces of paper. Send one blast of information to one electronic portal and let the government slice and dice it among all the agencies that want to take a look at it,” he says.“That will tremendously lower the costs of doing business globally.”