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Government, Private Sector Sending Mixed Signals On Trade

As Calderon government declined to bid for Free Trade of the Americas headquarters, private sector made its own bid, which was accepted


December 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Usually, the government of Puerto Rico and the private sector are in synch on major questions regarding regional and hemispheric policy. However, the recent fiasco surrounding the recognition of Puerto Rico’s application to host the permanent secretariat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) has created a lot of confusion on the island and called into question the 11th-hour initiative of the Puerto Rico Export Council (PREC).

As reported exclusively by PuertoRicoWOW on Nov. 22, when the recent meeting of the FTAA trade ministers ended in Miami on Nov. 20, the ministers’ declaration announced that 10 cities had applied to host the permanent secretariat, and San Juan wasn’t among them. The 10 cities were Atlanta; Cancun, Mexico; Chicago; Colorado Springs, Colo.;

Galveston, Texas; Houston; Miami; Panama City, Panama; Port-of-Spain, Trinidad; and Puebla, Mexico (CB Nov. 27).

Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Karen M. Lezny acknowledged in Washington on Nov. 22 that an application for San Juan to host the permanent secretariat had, in fact, been received and that the city would be included on the list. So now, the list includes 11 cities.

Economic Development & Commerce Secretary Milton Segarra, who had been scheduled to attend the FTAA meeting in Miami, announced in San Juan on Nov. 21 that pursuing the secretariat wasn’t a goal of the Calderon administration, which he said preferred to concentrate on generating more jobs for Puerto Rico. What Segarra obviously didn’t know was that Jose Gonzalez of Pan American Grain had submitted an application on behalf of the PREC, of which he is a board member. After the fact, his initiative received the endorsement of PREC Chairman Salvador "Chiry" Vassallo.

How the different perspectives of the government and the private sector are to be reconciled remains to be seen, but there is no question that the application is official and has been accepted and the PREC board is strongly determined to pursue the goal.

A number of the PREC board members disagree with the government’s limited view of the prospects for economic benefit to Puerto Rico. They refer to a study by economist Antonio Villamil, who advises Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) and served as assistant secretary of commerce in the administration of former President George H.W. Bush.

A great vision for Florida’s future

"The passage of the FTAA and locating the secretariat in Florida would result in an additional 89,259 jobs for Florida’s employment base," said Villamil, who pointed out that these jobs would be created over time through direct and indirect impact.

"This increased employment would boost Florida’s payrolls by an average of about $3.2 billion each year," added Villamil. "Implementation of the FTAA and the presence of its secretariat in Miami would add about $13.6 billion annually to Florida’s gross state product. This additional economic activity would generate an estimated $157 million annually in fiscal revenues for the state and local governments."

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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