Adam Putnam: Sunshine State Foods a Hook to make Florida Global Trade Crossroad
Around the State
Florida has a window of opportunity to become the crossroad for Asian trade -- particularly through exporting foods grown in the Sunshine State to the rapidly growing global population.
But it must continue to bulk up its seaports and transportation system, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam cautioned economic leaders in Leon County.
Officials in Savannah, Charleston, Norfolk and other East Coast port communities are busy working to expand and deepen their own ports in pursuit of business that is expected to grow as larger ships are able to transverse the Panama Canal once its estimated $6.2 billion widening is completed in 2015.
“As we look at the potential game-changing project with the widening and deepening of the Panama Canal, what that means for Florida and Florida agriculture could be extraordinary,” Putnam said Wednesday during the Economic Club of Florida’s luncheon at the Leon County Civic Center.
“All of the things that we buy from Asia right now that are offloaded in Long Beach and California and put on truck and train and shipped to the eastern seaboard of the U.S., all of that will now bypass California and it will come straight to the U.S.
“From a transportation standpoint, if Florida misses that window to a Savannah, a Baltimore, or a Norfolk or further north ports, we’ve missed one of the biggest game-changing developments in global trade flows in over a century.”
Putnam sees Florida using the Panamax ships that come through the canal with goods from Asia that are sold at Wal-Mart, Rooms-To-Go and Best Buy being reloaded with food from Florida for sale to China, India and other Asian markets.
“When you look at the global trends that need to feed 9 billion people over the next couple of decades, the importance and yield and productivity, and the placement of our state with a year-round growing season, the future of agriculture in Florida continues to be bright.”
Florida’s effort to increase international trade spawned an 18.3 percent growth in the value of traffic through its seaports last year, according to the Florida Ports Council.
The overall goods traveling through Florida’s ports in 2011 totaled $149 billion, of which more than half -- $82.7 billion -- were exports, according to a report released in May.
The majority of the trade was going to or coming from South America (37.4 percent), Asia and the Middle East (18.8 percent), Europe (15.7 percent), Central America (12.7 percent) and the Caribbean (9.5 percent), the council reported in its annual five-year outlook released on Friday.
Getting more Florida exports would require expanding Florida's manufacturing base, as well as completing a number of prioritized projects -- such as the Port Miami tunnel -- to shorten the time cargo can move from shipping lanes to railroad tracks and interstate highways.
Still, the overall totals were the most since 2008, which continue to outpace the trade shipped via air -- $63.8 billion in value in 2011.
A big reason for the recent growth has been the rise in free-trade agreements with Central and South American countries, some of which have been natural maritime trading partners with Florida.
The report noted that since the U.S. signed such a pact with Chile in 2004, Florida’s annual trade with the South American country has grown from $1.8 billion to $6.9 billion.
Similarly, trade with Peru has grown from $1 billion in 2007, when a free-trade agreement was signed, to $3.2 billion last year.
However, while the state continues to pump more goods to its trading partners to the south, the state still trades at a deficit with Asian nations, part of the reason Enterprise Florida is working on plans for a business development mission to Japan, Korea or other Asian nations in 2013.
For every $8 worth of imports from China, the state returns $1 in goods sold to the Asian nation.
The report does highlight efforts by the council to combat competition from ports in Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia as more foreign markets open and expand.
To meet the expected increase in trade, the 15 individual seaports in Florida -- both cruise and cargo -- have projected $2.7 billion in capital improvement needs over the next five years.
Channel and harbor deepening, along with new and rehabilitated cargo terminals, are among the primary needs. The majority of the work is projected at Port Miami, Port Everglades and JaxPort.
The Florida Ports Council forecasts the projects would create 12,000 construction jobs and 13,000 full-time jobs.
To help fund a few of the projects, legislators in the 2012 regular session increased the nondesignated port funding from $117 million in the current year to $135 million for the next fiscal year, and created a $35 million port investment initiative.
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.