Anti-Cuba trade bill imperils Florida's economy, should be vetoed

While Cuba's despotic Castro regime continues to merit condemnation, Florida cannot conduct foreign policy and supersede federal authority as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet the Legislature adopted a political piece of legislation that purports to punish Cuba's trading partners but will instead maul Florida's economy.

The bill, now in Gov. Rick Scott's hands, prohibits state and local governments from employing companies with business interests in Cuba. Private enterprises in Brazil and Canada, the state's top two foreign trade partners, conduct business with Cuba. Both counties expressed consternation over the measure's potential to damage business in the state.

The Canadian ambassador to the United States told the Florida Chamber of Commerce that Canadian companies would quit investing in the Sunshine State "for fear they might get hit by this." Brazil's trade minister relayed similar concerns to the Obama administration.

For a governor whose singular focus is economic development and job creation, this bill is a poison pill. Just this past October, the governor, state chamber delegates and business interests from around Florida traveled to Brazil to promote trade, including a Manatee County contingent.

Several local business executives, economic development officials and Port Manatee representatives sought to build relationships to encourage stronger commercial ties. Brazil already ranks as one of Port Manatee's largest trading partners, and Canada is important as well. The port's continuing expansion and aggressive marketing are vital to Manatee County's economy.

Florida also sent trade missions to four other Latin American countries last year, a sign of the region's growing trade clout and importance to this state.

Republican lawmakers from Miami-Dade, home to a powerful Cuban American population, pushed the legislation and scored political points with their constituents -- even though the intent is clearly unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court nullified a law adopted by Massachusetts that limited trade with Burma in 2000, ruling that it violated the Constitution's "supremacy clause."

Why would Florida lawmakers believe an almost identical law would somehow be deemed acceptable? The high court's ruling left absolutely no doubt, not with a 9-0 decision.

The measure's full impact on Florida's business climate remains hazy, and whether or not this bill would include U.S. companies with foreign investors or owners. But Florida's State Board of Administration analyzed an initial draft of the measure and found 238 companies that could fall under the bill's provisions, including airlines, banks and oil companies. The bill also identifies Syria as another oppressive regime the state should target with retribution, but few firms would be affected.

Floridians should be appalled at the prospect of protracted litigation and economic losses from this misguided legislation.

The governor should reject this reckless political statement for what it is -- an unconstitutional assault on the federal government's foreign policy powers and a threat to the state's still fragile economy.

Manatee County's economic development team should lobby for a veto, too.