Enterprise Florida, Inc. (EFI) is looking to expand economic ties between Florida and Colombia.
EFI, a public-private partnership, defines itself as the “principal economic development organization for Florida” and its mission is “to expand and diversify the state’s economy through job creation.”
On Friday, EFI announced it will lead a delegation of Florida businesses, including small businesses, to Bogota in November.
“Colombia is a growing market within Latin America and presents tremendous opportunities for Florida exporters,” said Manny Mencia, the senior vice president of international trade and development for EFI. “This trade mission is a unique opportunity for small Florida companies looking to establish a footprint in a large hemispheric market with great potential.”
EFI noted that Colombia continues to grow and is now the third most populous country in Latin America and has the fourth largest economy. Colombia’s growth in recent years has been, in part, from the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement passed by Congress in 2011 which saw tariffs be reduced as much as 80 percent.
According to EFI, Florida has benefited greatly from that agreement.
“With $7.2 billion in two-way trade, Florida accounts for 27 percent of all U.S. trade with Colombia – more than any other state. Florida exported nearly $4.2 billion of merchandise to Colombia in 2017, making the country Florida’s second-largest export market,” EFI noted on Friday.
Back in October 2011, both chambers of Congress approved the long-stalled free-trade agreement with Colombia. The deal with Colombia garnered the most opposition but still passed 262-167 in the House and 66-33 in the Senate. The agreement had been delayed as the White House negotiated with Congress over continuing funding of the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which provides benefits for American workers who lose their jobs due to international trade agreements. Then President Barack Obama supported the deal with Colombia.
Republicans in the Florida delegation called the passage of the agreement--as well as deals with South Korea and Panama--a big win for the national economy and for the Sunshine State.
“Florida’s 14 deepwater seaports generate over $65 billion in economic value to the state,” said U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., in support of the agreements. As the chairman of the Panama Caucus and as the states only congressman serving on the Ways and Means Committee, Buchanan played a large role in guiding the measures through Congress. “We have an opportunity to generate thousands of jobs right here in our backyard.”
From his perch on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, then U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Fla., also supported the measures, insisting they would “open up new markets for American companies that will help job creators hire new employees and grow their businesses."
Rivera, who would serve a single term in Congress before being defeated in 2012, went in depth on the benefits of the deal with Colombia.
“As the representative with the largest Colombian-American population of any district in the United States, I feel a special connection to the Colombia Free-Trade Agreement,” Rivera said. "Colombia is our best and strongest ally in Latin America and the oldest functioning democracy in the region. Their democracy has withstood terrorism and civil war and I have seen firsthand that the Colombian people are determined to be full partners in the global economy and they have shown great enthusiasm about trading with the United States.
“The Colombia Free-Trade Agreement will create jobs in the United States, especially in South Florida. It will immediately boost U.S. exports to Colombia and U.S. GDP would increase by roughly $2.5 billion and exports by more than a billion dollars,” he added.
There was some opposition in the Florida delegation, including that of Democrat U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch.
"In the midst of unprecedented long-term unemployment, I cannot support trade agreements that repeat the mistakes of previous trade deals that shipped millions of American jobs overseas and exploded our national trade deficit," Deutch said. "These proposed pacts will only escalate the global race for cheap labor in nations with poor human rights records. The Colombia deal will increase the availability of cheap labor with historically poor worker protections.”
Deutch was joined by two Florida Democrats -- U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings -- in opposing the measures. The rest of the delegation supported them save for Republican U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns who voted against the Colombia measure.
The two senators representing the Sunshine State -- then U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. -- voted to back the measures. After three terms in the Senate, Nelson was defeated last year.
Rubio said the deal with Colombia had “huge positive benefits for Florida" and “will create thousands of jobs in Florida.”
Then Gov. Rick Scott, who is now in the Senate after defeating Nelson in November, also weighed in on the matter.
“Free trade with Panama and Colombia will benefit Florida's economy and businesses for years to come. By eliminating the need to pay tariffs in order to export Florida goods and products to those expanding economies, Florida companies will now be able to invest their money in creating jobs,” Scott said when the trade agreements were passed. "Today’s action makes it even more important that we continue investing in our ports and infrastructure. By doing so, Florida will get the full benefit of these expanded trade opportunities and the jobs they will create.”
Then U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., who chaired the U.S. House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee in 2011, also proved instrumental in getting the agreement through Congress. Mack led a congressional delegation to Colombia in May 2011 to showcase the benefits of the agreement. In 2012, Mack challenged Nelson but lost in the general election.
During his first term as governor at the end of 2012, Scott and EFI led a trade mission to Colombia featuring more than 110 companies from the Sunshine State. In February 2013, Scott reported on the results of the mission.
“It is great news that mission sales are on track to exceed $40 million, and with the recent ratification of the free-trade agreements, I am confident Florida’s economic relationship with Colombia will continue to grow and benefit Florida families,” Scott said. “Florida has an ideal location to trade with Latin America and beyond. We are committed to growing jobs for Florida families, and missions to international markets help us build relationships across the globe to create new jobs and opportunities in the Sunshine State.”