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Business Leaders Salvage SJ Bid For FTAA Secretariat

San Juan Joins FTAA Chase

By Doreen Hemlock

November 26, 2003
Copyright ©2003 SO FL SUN-SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

Add Puerto Rico's capital of San Juan to the list of cities competing against Miami to become the headquarters for a 34-nation Free Trade Area of the Americas pact.

Business leaders from the Caribbean island submitted a last-minute bid before a Thursday midnight deadline. The bid has been accepted by FTAA coordinators, U.S. officials confirmed Tuesday.

The application was received too late for San Juan to be listed among contenders in the final statement that FTAA trade ministers issued Thursday evening at the end of their Miami meeting, a day earlier than scheduled, officials said.

San Juan will compete for the FTAA headquarters against 10 rivals: front-runner Miami and five other cities in the United States, two in Mexico, one in Panama and one in the Caribbean's Trinidad-Tobago.

The rivals seek an office that would oversee the FTAA, a pact slated for completion next year that would slash trade barriers among 34 of the 35 nations in the Americas, all except Cuba.

The headquarters is expected to employ at least 100 people, draw business travelers, spawn support services and above all, bring international prestige to the host city -- much as Brussels has gained as hub for the European Union.

FTAA trade ministers are to select the winner at a meeting next summer in Brazil.

"This is an open process," said Jorge L. Arrizurieta, who is running Miami's bid. "We

welcome all our friends who too understand the importance of FTAA and of Latin American and Caribbean commerce."

Puerto Rican business leaders had expected to submit their bid for the FTAA headquarters earlier last week, but sought the signature of Puerto Rico Gov. Sila Calderón on their application letter.

But as the Thursday-night deadline drew near, with the governor not yet signing on, the executives apparently opted to apply on their own.

The governor's office is still reviewing the application letter, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Puerto Rican business leaders want San Juan in the race to highlight the island's role as a gateway for the Americas.

The U.S. commonwealth of 4 million residents -- where Spanish is the main language -- already serves as Caribbean regional hub for many global companies.

Plus, the centrally located island plans a transshipment port for the Americas at a cost expected to top $1 billion.

Miami plans to spend more than $10 million over the next 18 months on its campaign for the FTAA headquarters.

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