Nathalie Cely Suárez, Ecuador’s ambassador to the United States,
Nathalie Cely Suárez, Ecuador’s ambassador to the United States, will inaugurate an Ecuadorian commercial office in Doral on Thursday — an indication of her country’s deepening trade relationship with Florida.
“It makes a lot of sense to have an office here,’’ said Cely in an interview Wednesday. “Eighty percent of our non-oil exports come into Miami.’’
The office, which will be located in the Miami Free Zone, joins similar Ecuadorian offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Headed by Fernando Navia, it will promote Ecuadorian exports as well as investment in the South American country.
Miami, said Cely, is also playing an increasingly important role in Ecuadorian exports to Asia. In September, Asiana Airlines began three weekly cargo flights to Seoul, making Miami a convenient connection point for trade with South Korea, she said.
Ecuador was the 15th most important trading partner of the Miami Customs District in 2011 with record total trade of $2.2 billion and was the state’s No. 18 trading partner with total trade of $2.33 billion — a 9.3 percent increase — in 2011.
Top Florida imports from Ecuador include roses and other cut flowers, crustaceans such as shrimp, fish fillets and other types of chilled and frozen fish, gold, bananas and plantains, coffee and oil.
Some 40,000 Ecuadorians also call Florida home.
Colombia, where a free trade agreement with the United States went into effect in May, exports many of the same products as Ecuador. “That really worries us for some products,’’ said Cely.
Most Ecuadorian exports also enter the United States duty-free under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which was designed to encourage economic alternatives to drug trafficking.
But unlike a free trade agreement that’s permanent, the ATPDA periodically lapses and must be renewed. It lapsed just before Valentine’s Day last year and wasn’t renewed until October.
However, some critics, including Chevron, would like to see trade preference status for Ecuador removed. A recent report to Congress from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative noted that “developments in the past few years give rise to concerns about the government’s long-term commitment to international arbitration for the settlement of investor disputes.’’
The sticking point is Ecuador’s refusal to honor the judgment of an international tribunal convened under the U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty. The tribunal ordered Ecuador to prevent enforcement of an $18-billion judgment against Chevron for polluting the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Asked about the challenge to the ATPDA, Cely said: “There is one reason for this: Chevron.
“All legal disputes in Ecuador are guided by the rule of law,’’ she said. “Chevron is not an investor/government case. It’s an investor/community case.’’
Cely noted that indigenous communities brought the lawsuit against Chevron. “I think these issues need to be resolved in court,’’ she said. “We are not a party in this conflict.’’
She said Ecuador complies with international arbitration rulings. “The USTR did not recommend suspending ATPDA in Ecuador; it said it would keep monitoring the process,’’ she said.
The act has done its job in Ecuador, Cely said, by encouraging alternatives such as growing roses and broccoli. “We’ve waged a strong effort against drugs despite being in a very difficult neighborhood between Colombia and Bolivia,’’ she said.
Now, Cely said, Ecuador is trying to interest the U.S. administration and Congress in a new economic program for Ecuador that goes beyond the ATPDA.
“Let’s go for an agenda that goes beyond narcotics,’’ she said. “We’d like to explore new ways of interacting with the United States for countries such as ours that don’t have free trade agreements.”