FTAA a success, Miami pitches for trade HQ

FTAA a success, Miami pitches for trade HQ

MIAMI - Officials here are optimistic that their city will be chosen to host the permanent headquarters for the Free Trade Area of the Americas after a strong showing during trade talks this week.

"Some people said we couldn't do it but we did it -- and we did it very well," said Luis Laredo, executive director of the VIII FTAA Ministerial and Americas Business Forum.

An unprecedented police presence cordoned off the area surrounding the meeting site in downtown Miami, and brief skirmishes between demonstrators and police that occurred on and off throughout the first official day of the meeting were unseen and mostly unheard by trade officials, whose talks ended Thursday.

The "secured perimeter" around the Inter-Continental Hotel enabled negotiators to come to an agreement on a draft proposal one day ahead of schedule. Although some critics derided the Miami document as "FTAA-lite," Laredo said the most important thing was that "we were able to move stalled talks."

''The biggest complaint -- fair or unfair -- was some felt the security was too strict,'' said Chuck Cobb, chairman of the Florida FTAA, formed by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to promote Miami as the home for the trade group's secretariat. "But I am glad we heard that, rather than that we were undersecure,'' he said.

Miami is one of nine cities vying to host the free trade headquarters, along with Atlanta; Chicago; Colorado Springs, Colo., Galveston, Tex.; Houston; Panama City, Panama; Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, and Puebla, Mexico.

Local government and private-sector leaders raised $3.6 million to fund seven days of meetings and social events, as well as forums for business executives and opponents of the FTAA. Laredo noted that the meetings included many civil sector groups.

Chris Padilla, representing U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, said that South Florida had established a positive reputation with trade officials. "Seattle is known as a failure; Cancun as a setback," he said referring to past meeting sites. "Miami will be known as a great success."

Miami will make its pitch to FTAA vice ministers on Feb. 1; the deadline for all of the cities' proposals is March 1, 2004. The FTAA will award its headquarters at its next meeting, tentatively scheduled for Brazil next fall.