Tampa, Florida-- President Obama could
have chosen any number of locations to talk about Latin-American trade as he
heads to Columbia for the Sixth Summit of the Americas, but the White House
opted for the Port of Tampa, where 40% of the exports go to Latin American countries.
"This is one of the most active trade relationships in the world and you
see it up close here at the port of Tampa," said the Presdient.
Although Mr. Obama's stop was not a campaign appearence, it was difficult to
ignore the political implications of choosing Tampa. It was the President's
second trip to Florida in a week.
But the region's success, said Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn, is a bi-partisan goal.
"We will be the gateway to the America's if we do this right," said the mayor.
The importance of fostering trade with Latin America is one a few bi-partisan
ideas that both Democrats and Republicans agree upon.
Governor Rick Scott, an outspoken Obama critic, has pushed hard for expanded
trade with Panama and Columbia. He met briefly with the President at Tampa
International Airport shortly after Air Force One touched down.
"We can't have barriers. The more barriers we have, the less trade we're
gonna have. So it was important last year that we got free trade agreements
done with Panama and Columbia. That's the reaosn I've already been to Panama
-I'm going to Columbia this year. Because I want more trade. Because it's a way
to build jobs in our state," said Scott.
"Everybody here knows how critical this part of the world is to our
economy and creating jobs," said the President.
Mr. Obama, touring the port, joked about wanting to operate some of the giant
crane's that lift and move the massive containers.
"Secret service wouldn't let me. They don't let me have fun," he said
to a chuckling crowd.
The President also unveiled a new program called the 'Small Business Network of
the Americas' for small and medium-sized businesses looking to make inroads in
"This initiative will make it easier for them to get financing," the
President said, "It will link them up with foreign buyers who are
interested in their products."
"The opportunity for more containerization, more use of these cranes is
huge. And so we need to be aggressive about pursuing Latin American
markets," said Buckhorn.