- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

Miami and Atlanta are angling to host the headquarters of a free-trade zone stretching from Alaska to Argentina, but other cities in the hemisphere are also likely to bid for the honor before the plan becomes reality in 2005.
Negotiators from 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere all but Cuba agreed in May 2001 to hammer out a Free Trade Area of the Americas by the end of 2004. The deal, essentially an expanded version of the North American Free Trade Agreement, would tear down barriers to goods and services trading over the next decade.
Other countries, including Panama, Mexico and Brazil, are likely to make bids before North and South American trade ministers make a decision on a headquarters, which would bring prestige and at least some economic benefits, diplomats said. Miami has been seeking to win the FTAA headquarters for a few yeas, and Atlanta stepped up its campaign earlier this year.
"At this stage, it's a lot of self-promotion," said Eric Farnsworth, a former official with the Clinton administration who worked on Latin American trade policy.
At stake is the location of the FTAA's secretariat, the group of mostly working-level diplomats and technical experts who handle the day-to-day paper-pushing for what would be the world's largest free-trade agreement. During the FTAA negotiations, this group has shifted its location from Miami, to Panama City and now resides in Puebla, Mexico, north of Mexico City.
A U.S. trade official, who requested anonymity, said that negotiators will begin hammering out the details of the secretariat next year, and that trade ministers will decide on a location sometime in 2004.
Even though the secretariat which could include as few as 100 persons cannot promise a massive financial boost for the host city, the idea of being at the center of hemispheric commerce has strong appeal, said Rubens Barbosa, Brazil's ambassador in Washington.
"It's a matter of prestige," said Mr. Barbosa. "It will have a limited economic impact."
Mr. Barbosa, who said that Rio de Janeiro may make a bid, added that no clear front-runner has emerged overall, despite the increasingly intense competition within the United States.
For the American cities competing to win the headquarters, it's about more than prestige.
Florida's former secretary of state, Katherine Harris, now a Republican candidate for Congress, has said that having the FTAA secretariat in Miami would be "the greatest catalyst for job creation and economic development that this generation of Floridians will achieve."
Gordon Giffin, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada who now heads up the Atlanta bid for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, thinks the windfall will be modest, but still worth striving for.
"I have never yet seen a government entity that turned out smaller than it was planned," Mr. Giffin said.
In its campaign, Miami is touting its deep ties to Latin America.
The city was the location of the Summit of the Americas, a gathering of heads of state from North and South America in 1994, and is already home to consulates from 34 countries in the hemisphere.
Florida formed a not-for-profit organization in 1999 with Republican Gov. Jeb Bush as honorary chairman to push its bid for the trade office.
Thanks to its early campaigning, both the U.S. House and Senate passed resolutions supporting Florida's efforts.
Mr. Giffin, however, believes Atlanta can still mount a tough challenge to Miami.
"There are congressional resolutions passed every day," he said. "They're interesting, but not controlling."


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