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No FTAA Secretariat For San Juan: Confusion Reigned As P.R. Failed To Meet Filing Deadline… Miami Mounted An Aggressive Campaign: Spent $15m On FTAA Summit; Prepared To Spend Another $15m To Snare Permanent Secretariat

No FTAA Secretariat For San Juan

Confusion reigned as Puerto Rico failed to meet filing deadline


November 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

MIAMI—As the ministerial conference of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) ended here, many of the more than two dozen delegates from Puerto Rico couldn’t help but feel disappointed at being denied the prize: the inclusion of San Juan in the final list of cities applying to host the FTAA’s permanent secretariat.

The deadline for filing was Nov. 20. As the date came and went, the final ministerial declaration that evening included the names of nine cities, but not San Juan.

Below a headline "Puerto Rico Misses a Big Deadline," the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported, "More than two dozen executives from Puerto Rico [attended] the FTAA talks this week, hoping that island Gov. Sila Calderon would sign off on their proposal for San Juan to join the cities vying to be the headquarters site. But when trade ministers wrapped up their talks a day early, the deadline had passed without an application letter. Meanwhile, Galveston, Texas, joined Miami and others in the headquarters derby."

In an Oct. 27, 2003 letter to Gov. Calderon, a number of private-sector leaders asked her to support their initiative to vie for the FTAA’s permanent secretariat. The letter was signed by Puerto Rico Export Council (PREC) President Salvador "Chiry" Vassallo, Chamber of Commerce President Hector Mayol, Manufacturers Association President Manuel Cidre, United Retailers Association President Enid Toro, Puerto Rico Products Association President Felipe Hernandez, Bankers Association President Jose R. Gonzalez, and Convention Bureau Executive Director Jorge Pesquera.

The Miami Herald reported that Puerto Rico spent the week contemplating a bid, but San Juan wasn’t on the final list of candidates. The cities on the list included Atlanta, Ga.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Galveston, Texas; Houston, Texas; Miami, Fla.; Cancun, Mexico; Panama City, Panama; Port-of-Spain, Trinidad; and Puebla, Mexico.

In conversations with a number of delegates from Puerto Rico who remained in Miami over the weekend, many asked, "What happened to Puerto Rico’s bid?" "Who dropped the ball?" and "What went wrong?"

Reportedly, a number of business leaders were planning to meet in San Juan on Monday, Nov. 24, the day CARIBBEAN BUSINESS went to press. They intended to assess the obvious damage to Puerto Rico’s image and deal with the fallout.

Could an application be missing?

It was also reported that the PREC may have filed an application. The PREC is described as a quasi-government entity since it has joint public- and private-sector control. FTAA officials indicated, however, denied any knowledge of an application by the PREC and said the deadline can’t be extended under any circumstances.

Economic Development & Commerce Secretary Milton Segarra had been scheduled to arrive in Miami on Nov. 19 to replace Promoexport Executive Director Antonio Sosa Pascual as head of the delegation, since Sosa Pascual had planned to depart for New York.

Segarra was expected to bring the application letter with him. As Segarra canceled his trip, the situation unraveled. The confusion was described by a number of executives involved as an embarrassment to Puerto Rico which could and should have been avoided.

Back in San Juan, Segarra issued a press elease Friday confirming that "the government of Puerto Rico didn’t file the intended proposal to be considered the permanent seat of the FTAA secretariat," that its main focus continues to be to participate in the FTAA negotiations, and that lobbying for its headquarters, "which would require considerably greater effort and resources," could be a distraction At press time Monday, there had been unconfirmed reports that La Fortaleza sources intended to shift the blame for its failure to San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini, a Republican who reportedly has good contacts in the Bush administration, for not taking an active role in supporting Puerto Rico’s bid. It couldn’t be learned who was supposed to have been the liaison between the governor and the mayor, but some said it was to have been Segarra.

In any case, the private-sector leaders hadn’t approached Santini, nor had the mayor announced any intention of embracing the idea of San Juan being the FTAA’s permanent secretariat.

Local press reports cited Gov. Calderon as saying that her administration didn’t want any distractions from its main focus, which is to create jobs.

Miami Mounted An Aggressive Campaign

Spent $15 million on FTAA summit; prepared to spend another $15 million to snare permanent secretariat


November 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

MIAMI—The determination of Miami to win the permanent secretariat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was reflected in the aggressive manner in which the public and private sectors of the South Florida communities moved into high gear less than 24 hours after Miami emerged as one of the nine cities vying for the coveted prize.

Florida FTAA Inc., the organization coordinating Miami’s effort, hosted a reception to nnounce how the city will comply with the capabilities proposal, outlining what it will be required to do to achieve the goal. The organization circulated a 36-page, four-color proposal produced in less than 24 hours.

There are nine cities on the final list, but Miami is seen by most as the frontrunner. Panama City, Panama, is increasingly viewed as a serious rival in second place. All of the others pale in comparison at this time, but that could change as a number of U.S. contenders can be expected to move fast. Heading that list are Atlanta and Houston.

"We have to get out our tin cup and go to Washington, to Tallahassee [Fla.], and to private donors," said Chuck Cobb, a former U.S.

ambassador who heads the nonprofit group. "I promise you that the FTAA base in Florida will bring hefty dividends to taxpayers."

The committee has already spent more than $15 million on the just ended ministerial conference, and Cobb indicated the second phase, commencing now, would require another $15 million from federal, state, and local governments and from the private sector. Representatives of Atlanta and Panama were at the Miami presentation, along with some delegates from Puerto Rico, which was widely believed would be a contender.

However, Puerto Rico’s application never materialized. The FTAA headquarters is expected to employ at least 100 people in a building to be provided by the host city. But just as important, it is expected to spawn support services, attract many visitors, and, above all, bring prestige as the unofficial capital of the Americas.

"In the world of trade, we talk of cities in shorthand," said Chris Padilla, representing the office of the U.S. trade representative in Washington. "Seattle is known as a failure, Cancun as a setback, and Miami will be known as a big success. The trade ministers were able to reach an early agreement because they felt comfortable, safe, and at home in Miami."

Miami is the lead contender, boasting more flights to and from all FTAA countries than any other and more than 49,000 hotel rooms and 1.9 million square feet of meeting space.

Cobb said Miami will construct the headquarters building over the next 18 months, preferably close to a hotel with a major convention center and offices. He said that there are 10 to 15 places in South Florida meeting the criteria and that Coral Gables and Miami plan to make proposals.

A number of observers of the process indicate that what makes Panama City such a serious compromise contender is the possibility that the majority of the 34 trade ministers could resist putting the permanent secretariat in the U.S. Panama is considered an attractive alternative with an excellent location, extensive air connections, and good hotel and conference facilities.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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