Manatee, Rio de Janeiro Sister Seaport agreement holds great potential

June 4, 2013 

New Air Products company buildings going up across from Port Manatee. SARA KENNEDY/Bradenton Herald

Port Manatee continues to position the county into a prime place for international trade. Today, June 4, Port Manatee and Rio de Janeiro's Port Authority ink an agreement that links the two as International Sister Seaports.

That will certainly boost opportunities for trade between Brazil and the United States -- with Manatee County as a major beneficiary.

We welcome Jorge Luiz de Mello, president-director of the Rio de Janeiro Port Authority, to our shores to sign this unique partnership.

He will join Carlos Buqueras, executive director of Port Manatee, and Carol Whitmore, chairwoman of the Manatee Port Authority, for today's ceremony. This follows a similar signing in Brazil two weeks ago.

The agreement marks the first instance of a Florida Gulf Coast seaport establishing such a relationship, and provides Port Manatee with a highly visible presence in Brazil -- similar to free, high-impact Super Bowl advertising, Buqueras remarked on the port's website last week.

Further, he enthused, "This agreement is like Olympic gold for Florida's Gulf Coast."

Brazil already is Florida's largest trading partner. Port Manatee is the primary importer of the South American country's lumber and orange juice with distribution throughout the Southeast.

The new agreement will help establish regular shipping lines with other Brazilian ports along with Rio de Janeiro's. Plus, as Sister Seaports, the two will share information on cargo industries, future infrastructure improvements, research and marketing.

This coup for Manatee County comes at a great time. With the port recently completing a giant extension of one berth in order to accommodate larger vessels, especially container ships, and the expansion of the container yard in the works, Port Manatee is in a much stronger position to compete for international trade.

And as the closest American deepwater port to the Panama Canal, Manatee sits in an enviable position to gain trade once Panama completes work on expanding the canal to accommodate the new generation of giant cargo ships. That project should be finished in two years.

Hundreds of new jobs and new sources of port revenue are in the offing, which will grow the port's regional economic impact above the current $2.3 billion annually.

Beyond that, Port Manatee is attracting new companies to the 5,000 vacant acres surrounding the seaport. The newest is Air Projects and Chemicals Inc., which is building a new manufacturing plant here because of the location near a "well-run and well-maintained port," a company official stated in April.

The Allentown, Pa.-based company scouted more than two dozen potential sites before settling for one across the highway from Port Manatee. The multibillion-dollar company ships product around the globe, and plans to staff the new plant here with 250 local workers.

Port Manatee, long considered one of the crown jewels of the region's economy, continues to realize that reputation with more growth expected out of the new Brazil connection. And there's no resting on laurels as the port plans to pursue additional international trade opportunities.

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