Port Manatee

‘Matchmakers’ from eight countries shopping for business at Port Manatee

“Matchmakers.”

That’s what Elaine Brouca, trade commissioner for Canada, calls the representatives of eight countries who met Thursday at Port Manatee to introduce themselves and network with local businesses.

Carlos Buqueras, the port’s executive director, would agree with Brouca’s apt description.

Buqueras hopes that a whole lot of love, in a business sense, blooms between Port Manatee and the international visitors from Canada, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru and Spain.

He established the International Trade Hub at Port Manatee in 2014 as part of a plan to expand business here.

Some economists are predicting a mild recession in 2020, and Buqueras says diversifying the business base at Port Manatee could help lessen the inevitable pain of a downturn.

“All of these countries will not be in a recession at the same time as the United States,” Buqueras told the group.

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Carlos Buqueras, executive director of Port Manatee, opened Thursday's International Trade Hub meeting. Fourteen countries were invited to the meeting. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

The port also needs to look into launching cruise and ferry service, he said, and to start making itself Cuba-ready, once commercial relations between the two countries normalize. Port Manatee is the closest American port to the Cuban port of Mariel.

Among those who attended Thursday’s meeting were Annette and Brian Brama, owners of Bulk Food Super Stores in Ellenton and Sun City Center.

The Bramas became friends with Ivan Mutis, CEO of Strategic Consultancy for New Markets, one of the prime movers of Port Manatee’s International Trade Hub, after he sold them Colombian coffee.

“He still comes into the store and does demonstrations for our customers,” Annette Brama said.

The ongoing support is as important to the merchant as the original deal to sell a product, Brian Brama added.

The Bramas, who originally hail from Canada, were also interested in hearing from Elaine Brouca.

Brouca, who is based in Miami like the other trade commissioners, said her job is to support Canadian companies that want to do business in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and to support Florida firms that want to invest in Canada.

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Elaine Brouca, trade commissioner for Canada, attended Thursday’s International Trade Hub meeting, saying she looks to facilitate business opportunities between her country and the United States. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

“Promoting collaboration can lead to other business opportunities,” Brouca said. “We know Canada matters to you, and Florida matters to Canada.”

Brouca and her counterpart from Mexico, Lucia Aguilar Puga, both addressed President Donald Trump’s insistence on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“We completely agree NAFTA needs to be modernized,” Brouca said. “We’re feeling a bit more optimistic we’re moving forward on the negotiations.”

Aguilar Puga said her country is looking for a win-win, as the three countries work on meeting the challenges of the 21st century.

“When NAFTA was signed, a tweet was the sound of a bird,” she said.

Two countries, Spain and Honduras, sent representatives to Port Manatee for the first time.

Nine hundred Spanish companies operate in the United States and 40 percent of those are in Florida, said Maria Jesus de Gonzalo Gamir, commercial attache for Spain.

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Sacha Garafulic of Chile, Juan Barrera of Colombia, and Dunia Miranda-Mauri of Guatemala were among those representing their countries at the International Trade Hub meeting on Thursday at Port Manatee. James A. Jones Jr. jajones1@bradenton.com

Eight of those Spanish companies are active at Port Manatee, Buqueras said.

Alejandra Zelaya, trade commissioner for Honduras, said her country is looking forward to doing business at Port Manatee, and that she is looking for new opportunities.

Countries that begin exporting to Port Manatee will eventually set up shop there, said Karen Stewart, economic development officer for Manatee County.

“It’s these small steps,” she said, that lead to business development.

The trade commissioners finished their visit with lunch at the Manatee Chamber of Commerce where they met with more local business representatives.

“Our best possible outcome is that they understand where opportunities lie for both inbound and outbound trade when it comes to Manatee County and our region,” said Jacki Dezelski, the chamber’s president and CEO.

James A. Jones Jr.: 941-745-7053, @jajones1

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