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Brits See Potential In Puerto Rico
New U.K. consulate opens in San Juan, cites opportunities in transshipment, hospitals, prisons, and consumer markets
by Daniel R. Garza
March 30, 2000
British companies have their eyes set on contracts to manage privatized hospitals and prisons, and continue to look for a stake in the proposed transshipment and logistics hub.
The companies will get some help from the United Kingdom's new consulate in Puerto Rico, the first of three consulates and trade offices to open this year in the U.S.
"We are from this day putting our diplomatic relationship with Puerto Rico on new and higher footing," said Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain's ambassador to the U.S. "Puerto Rico has an immensely important position vis-à-vis the Caribbean, Latin America, North America, so there are number of targets you can hit by being well represented here."
Britain is Puerto Rico's largest foreign investor. British pharmaceutical companies operating on the island employ some 3,000 people.
Meyer was in Puerto Rico last week to attend a reception honoring Ian Court, who until recently served as the U.K.'s honorary consul in Puerto Rico for 14 years.
"We've been very impressed with what Ian has been able to achieve over the last 14 years. He's laid a very solid foundation," Meyer said.
Vice Consul Patricia Martinez Tully will head the local office. She will report directly to Miami-based Consul Robin Bayliss, who will travel to Puerto Rico monthly with John Wright, an expert in Caribbean and Latin American trade.
"We aim to try and interest more British companies in investing in Puerto Rico and selling their goods and services here. And we'll encourage local companies to invest in Britain," Bayliss said.
British companies are particularly interested in selling consumer goods to Puerto Rican consumers. Privatization of government-owned enterprises is another area of opportunity. The consulate plans to alert British investors of pending hospital sales and bids for contracts to manage prisons.
Though they won't say who they are, British and Puerto Rico government officials continue to say U.K. investors are very interested in a planned transshipment port. An economic feasibility study of the project paid for by the Puerto Rico Government Development Bank is due out in May.
"There is quite a bit of interest on the part of British investors. Once the study is done we can invite British participation," said Martinez.
Britain is the fourth largest economy in the world and, like the U.S., is enjoying a long stretch of economic growth. The U.K. wants to increase its presence in U.S. cities with the potential for long-term economic growth. Britain will open a consulate in Denver, Colo., and a trade office in Phoenix, Ariz.
Meyer suggested the new San Juan consulate might encourage British Airways to resume direct service to San Juan or Virgin Atlantic Airlines to add service. British Airways recently announced it planned to discontinue service between London and San Juan.
"Sometimes it's the government who spots long-term economic opportunity and the airlines follow," he said.