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Atlanta challenging Miami for FTAA headquarters

By John Collins (1)

"Puebla in Mexico, Panama City and Port of Spain also in race; More prestige than money involved in final selection."

Now that President George W. Bush has been granted fast-track powers by the Congress to negotiate trade agreements, the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) will be edging ever closer to its scheduled kickoff in 2005.

Proposed by President Bill Clinton at his historic Summit of the Americas in Miami in 1994, the FTAA envisions hemispheric free trade by 2005 among its 34 countries minus Cuba which is presently excluded.

The apparatus to administer the FTAA is to be housed in a permanent secretariat to be located in a venue yet to be determined. The financial injection into the host city is estimated at about $2 million of which 75% is provided by the Inter-American Development Bank and the other 25% by the national and local governments of where it is to be located. The multiplier effect is considered much greater because of the visitors and activity it attracts in addition to the prestige accrued.

The selection of the permanent venue has now accelerated since the approval of fast-track with the latest entry being Atlanta, Georgia. Previously announced contenders include Puebla, Mexico, Miami, Panama City and Port of Spain, Trinidad.

The temporary secretariat is presently located in Panama City for two years but is scheduled to move to Mexico City next year for the next two years. It was located in Miami for two years before Panama City.

Port of Spain emerged earlier this year as a contender and the heads of government of the 14-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM)  agreed at their summit in Guyana in July to collectively support it. With 14 out of the 34 votes of the countries involved, the CARICOM vote bloc is the largest defined at present but it is still early in the campaign.

The recent entry of Atlanta is viewed as complicating the bid of Miami which often refers to itself as the U.S. “Gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean.” But those who recall Atlanta’s campaign to successfully get the 1994 Olympics know it is a very strong contender that has to be taken seriously.

Miami a strong contender

Miami has a lot going for it as well. It is where the vision of the FTAA was born, it has a $2 million war chest to help fight its battle and the governor of Florida is Jeb Bush, brother of the President. Helping direct the campaign is Cuban-born Antonio Villamil, a Miami economist and consultant,  who served President George Bush 41 as under secretary of Commerce. Also considered a positive factor is that 56% of Miami’s population is of Latin descent. 

Considered a potential negative by some is Miami’s vocal anti-Castro Cuban community but, since Cuba is not eligible for participation in the FTAA unless political changes occur there, its powerful business community, although sometimes divided, would be expected to close ranks in a contest with Atlanta.

Not to be overlooked are the corporate giants of Atlanta who would strongly support its candidacy with considerable clout. They include Coca Cola, UPA, Home Depot, Bell South, Delta Airlines and Turner Broadcasting. “It’s a perfect opportunity for Atlanta,” said one observer.

Miami has quietly been doing its advance work, however. In fact the U.S. Congress has already adopted a non-binding resolution calling on U.S. trade negotiators to use “all available means” to secure the permanent FTAA secretariat for Miami. It was supported by Florida’s entire 34-member Congressional delegation.

Noted at the July Caricom summit was open campaigning by delegates in support of both Panama City and Port of Spain. Although Mexico had a delegation present, if it was campaigning for Puebla, Mexico, it was doing so in a discreet manner. Representatives of Miami were no where to be seen.

A fight between two U.S. cities, some observers note,  could create a danger for both resulting in other countries supporting one of the non-U.S. candidates. One sees the vote of the Dominican Republic (D.R.) as pivotal since it is uncommitted. While the support of Caricom’s 14 for Port of Spain is not binding permanently it is viewed as a strong commitment. Central America’s six and South America’s ten votes are viewed by many as leaning toward Puebla, Mexico or Panama City in that order. That leaves the D.R. as a holdout nonaligned.

The executive director of the present provisional FTAA secretariat in Panama City is the respected Dominican diplomat Ivan Ogando (CB Dec. 28, 2000). His appointment to the post enjoyed strong support from throughout the hemisphere.

But regional observers point out that it won’t be decided until the final vote is taken and since it will be secret, the outcome is anyone’s guess right now. Reportedly Houston, Texas is contemplating jumping into the contest. The next opportunity to lobby for votes will be at an FTAA high level meeting in Ecuador in October. 

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1) Other articles by the well known Caribbean author John Collins can be read at:

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August 11, 2002


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