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FL: Scott draws heat for Colombia trade trip

By   /   December 3, 2012  /   No Comments

By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog

ST. PETERSBURG — Critics are blasting Gov. Rick Scott for taking off on yet another foreign trade mission, this time to the booming Latin American tiger of Colombia.

BUST THE CRONIES: Stansel said such trips further blend the line between governments and corporations, leading to corruption and loss of public funds

Critics view these kinds of trips at public expense as troubling for the average taxpayer, not just for the temporary costs, but also because of the chance of larger subsidies to preferential companies.

“Politicians should not involve themselves in creating partnerships with foreign businesses,” said Dean Stansel, professor of economics at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. “This creates great potential for corruption.”

Stansel told Florida Watchdog the trip distorts the essential role of government, allowing it to pick winners and losers and field an advantage over potential competitors.

“Part of the problem with these kinds of international expeditions is that not all businesses have equal access to a seat on the governor’s jet,” said Stansel. “Those without political influence are left out in the cold, while we the taxpayers have to foot the bill.”

He said the international expeditions are a “perfect example of crony capitalism,” allowing those who have political influence with the government to “get the benefits” to the expense of everyone else.

The sixth foreign trade mission for the first-term Florida governor is “part of a strategy to promote Florida exports worldwide and help pave the way for Florida companies to enter … or expand their market share in Colombia,” Scott wrote in the invitation letter sent out to various business leaders.

LIBRE: Scott is in Colombia to take advantage of the latest U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, hoping to expand Florida businesses into Latin America.

Accompanying Scott will be over 200 corporate executives, government agency representatives and local politicians aiming to cash in on the expanding $9 billion in trade between Florida and Colombia produced in 2011, according to Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development program that arranges public funds for private firms.

Among them are:

  • Eric Silagy, president of Florida Power and Light Co.;
  • Paul Anderson, CEO of the Jacksonville Port Authority;
  • Craig Bapiste, chairman of  Garrison Walker Financial;
  • Marc Maseman, president of Florida Chemical Supply Co. Inc.;
  • Enrique Collazo, CEO of A&B Pipe Co.;
  • Michael Gerrity, CEO of World Property Channel;
  • Marcelo Teixeira, CEO of M&M International, an oil-drilling firm.

FULL LIST OF PARTICIPANTS HERE

Enterprise Florida’s website points to examples of three companies that praised such trips in the past — to Israel, Spain, England, Brazil and Canada — because they proved “incredible value and return” for their businesses.

“It’s helpful to have government on your side,” said Joel Agler, owner of Magna-Bon International, an agricultural company. “It’s important to say we’re with Team Florida.”

COME ON OVER: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn wants to tell Colombians about Tampa’s ports and growing industries.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, also will join Scott in Colombia, hoping to sell Tampa as the ideal partner for Colombian and American businesses looking to boost trade in the Sunshine State.

A 2011 paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonpartisan research organization in Cambridge, Mass., showed that communities that offer economic development incentives, such as these trade mission trips, actually are more likely to have higher levels of corruption and financial crime, adding support to critics’ fears.

Some businesses on the trade mission also might be looking to receive benefit from subsidies from Uncle Sam.

In 2011, the United States federal government sent more than $390 million to Colombia in foreign aid, mostly directed toward drug eradication by police and military spending, according to the latest budget summary by the U.S. State Department.

At least in the past five years however, more money has been allocated to the “economic stability fund,” given to local businesses so that they may purchase imports from around the world, mostly the United States.

This is in spite of the fact that by conservative estimates, Colombia’s economy is expected to grow by 4.7 percent in 2012, while the U.S. is projected to have only grown 2.5 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Contact Yaël Ossowski, Watchdog.org’s Florida Bureau Chief at Yael@Watchdog.org

— Edited by Kelly Carson, kcarson@watchdog.org

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Yaël Ossowski
yael@watchdog.org