Article by: Staff

For the full story visit: The Bradenton Times

PALMETTO – Port Manatee and Chile are pursuing considerable opportunities to boost two-way trade, according to a Chilean official who visited the Central Florida Gulf Coast port Thursday.

“We’re looking forward to developing a closer commercial relationship,” said Sacha Garafulic, who serves as trade commissioner of Chile in his position as director of ProChile, the Chilean government’s export promotion organization. “We have a lot of potential that has not yet been developed.”

Garafulic, who spoke at the Manatee County Port Authority’s meeting and toured the port, including the International Trade Hub at Port Manatee, said he believes the hub could serve as a launching pad for enhanced commercial ties.

“We could work together and develop closer relations between Port Manatee and Chilean companies, with the hub as one of the starting points,” he said, adding that the Miami-based Chile-U.S. Chamber of Commerce also could play an integral role.

Garafulic, who is based in Miami, pointed out that Chile is engaged in about $5 billion a year of trade with South Florida seaports and airports, with northbound salmon, wines and fresh fruits among key commodities, but in 2016 sent just $6.5 million of goods – mostly salts used in making fertilizer – to Port Manatee while receiving no exports from Port Manatee.

“Much opportunity for growth exists,” Garafulic added, noting that annual two-way trade between the United States and Chile has quadrupled since the U.S.-Chile Free-Trade Agreement entered into force in 2004.

Vanessa Baugh, chairwoman of the Manatee County Port Authority, shared in the enthusiasm, commenting, “We are eager to explore mutually beneficial opportunities for growing imports from Chile and adding exports to Chile from Port Manatee to the mix.”

Carlos Buqueras, Port Manatee’s executive director, said, “As one of Latin America’s most stable and prosperous nations, Chile offers tremendous potential for greater commerce with Port Manatee, as the gateway to the burgeoning Central Florida market and beyond. We are committed to working more closely with Chilean companies and trade officials, including through the International Trade Hub at Port Manatee.”

The port also dedicated a rebuilt Berth 9 on Thursday. The berth is now able to accommodate heavier loads thanks to completion of a reconstruction project in concert with the Florida Department of Transportation.

At a dedication ceremony that morning, officials cut a ribbon signaling the formal opening of the fortified 625-foot-long berth, which can now handle uniform loads of as many as 1,000 pounds per square foot.

“FDOT very much values its partnership with Port Manatee,” said Paul Simmons, modal development administrator for FDOT’s District 1, noting that FDOT funded three-quarters of the project’s $10.3 million cost. “We share the same goals, and we look forward to continued growth and prosperity for this region and our district.”

Commissioner Baugh pointed out that Manatee County already has benefited from the endeavor, as it created 250 construction-related jobs.

“Not only will the enhanced Berth 9 facilitate increased activity at Port Manatee in the long term,” Baugh said, “but it has already had a significant jobs-related impact.”

Buqueras said, “We appreciate the productive partnership with FDOT in bringing this project to fruition. We are united in the belief that the renovated Berth 9 will reap benefits for Florida for years to come.”

State Rep. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton) commented, “With this reconstructed berth in place, we anticipate additional growth in Port Manatee’s business and further advancement of the port’s role as a huge economic driver for Manatee County.”