International Business

Town hall meeting focuses on importance of trade to Florida economy

Kevin McGurgan, United Kingdom consul general in Miami, said Monday that the U.K. wants the proposed transatlantic free trade pact to be “unprecedented in scale, scope and ambition.’’

Speaking at the Florida Chamber’s International Town Hall meeting in Miami, McGurgan noted that together the United States and the European Union account for about 40 percent of world trade.

During last week’s G8 summit, President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and European officials announced the beginning of negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a free trade deal between the EU and United States.

A T-TIP would eliminate all tariffs on trade, further open EU markets and also take on non-tariff barriers that hamper the flow of goods. Negotiators also will be discussing how to reduce the cost of doing business when standards and regulations differ and how to make them more compatible.

But any trade pact hammered out with the EU would need congressional approval, which proved to be a very long, drawn-out process for recent free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and Korea.

The first round of T-TIP talks is scheduled to begin July 8 in Washington, D.C., and negotiators hope to conclude the discussions in 18 to 24 months.

“Can we really deliver a major agreement like this within 24 months?’’ asked McGurgan during the meeting at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce headquarters. “We won’t know until we try. We won’t succeed unless we keep our eye on the grand strategic prize. And it is a prize worth fighting for.”

He noted that Florida goods exported to the EU totaled $6.3 billion and Florida products exported to the U.K. in 2012 reached $1.2 billion — a 4 percent increase. McGurgan said that British firms employ 39,000 people in Florida — “making Britain the largest foreign job supporter in Florida’’ — and have invested $4.9 billion in the state’s economy.

The European Council has said that the potential pact would create about 2 million jobs in the EU and exports would increase about 6 percent. The agreement would boost U.S. exports about 8 percent, said the European Council.

The T-TIP was just one of the topics at the wide-ranging meeting that included discussions on Florida’s competiveness, logistics, foreign trade zones, the impact of federal budget cuts on international business, trade in services, climate change, immigration reform, regulatory regimes, Florida ports and Canadians’ big presence in the Sunshine State.

Attorney Rodolfo Blanco said he thought there was a disconnect between South Florida, where international business is a mainstay of the economy, and Tallahassee and the northern part of the state. While he said state officials’ understanding of the benefits of international trade is improving, “Not everyone gets it; not everyone is on board.”

That has to change, Blanco said, “otherwise other states or countries will eat our lunch.’’ Among the competitors he mentioned are Houston, Atlanta and Panama.

One of the problems, said attorney Lee Sandler, who chaired the meeting, is that “we don’t really have a home base for international business in the legislature — there’s not an international business committee. We have to work with our delegation in South Florida to have champions of international trade.’’

Sandler, who chairs the Florida Chamber’s International Business Council, said that when important legislation is pending, the international business community needs to define its interests.

“Having a continuing and effective presence in Tallahassee and Washington’’ should be a priority, he said.

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