Miami crossroads of trade

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South Florida, which includes the city of Miami, was one of America’s last frontiers when American business woman Julia DeForest Tuttle visited the place in 1875. Eleven year later, after her husband died, she decided to move to southern Florida where she bought several hundred acres of land near the Miami River. The visionary widow from Ohio realised that the area would never prosper unless it could be accessed by railroads. Tuttle met Henry Flagler, a multi-millionaire who was going to extend his railroad south along Florida’s east coast to develop cities and resorts along the way and convinced him to extent his new railway to her area. Flagler agreed to do so in exchange for hundreds of acres of land from Tuttle and Tuttle’s neighbors William and Mary Brickell who were the other main landowners in the area.  Flagler also agreed to lay the foundations for a city on either side of the Miami River and to build a large hotel. The first train arrived in what became Miami city on April 13, 1896. "It may seem strange to you, but it is the dream of my life to see this wilderness turned into a prosperous country,” Tuttle told her friend, according to records available with the National Women's History Museum. Tuttle believed that the area would become a great city, one that would become a center of trade for the US with South America. Tuttle’s foresight proved correct and Miami today has the distinction of being home to some of the biggest global financial institutions and companies. While the history has recognized Tuttle as the only female founder of a major American city and honoured her as the “Mother of Miami”; the city has been nicknamed as the “capital of Latin America” and “cruise capital of the world”. Miami International Airport (MIA) and the Port of Miami are among the nation's busiest ports of entry, especially for cargo from South America and the Caribbean. The Port of Miami is the world's busiest cruise port, and MIA is the busiest airport in Florida, and the largest gateway between the US and Latin America. According to latest financial numbers released by MIA, total freight at MIA grew by 2.2 percent in the first quarter of 2014 year over year. The first quarter saw more than 500,000 tonnes of air cargo. International freight shipments increased by 3.3 percent, a number buoyed by the annual influx of Valentine’s Day flowers that arrive at MIA on their way from the growing regions of Latin America to destinations across the US. In all, US Customs and Border protection estimates that 398.5 million stems of cut flowers arrived at MIA between January 27 and February 14. Annually, more than 91 percent of all flower imports to the US come through MIA. The uptick in international freight offset a 5.2 percent dip in domestic freight, which accounted for just 12.5 percent of the total freight tonnage. Meanwhile, total passenger traffic at MIA grew by 1.4 percent in the first quarter of 2014. “The positive momentum that carried MIA through 2013 has continued right into 2014, and we’re very excited for what’s to come, whether it’s on the passenger or freight side of the business,” said Emilio T González, director, Miami-Dade Aviation Department, the operator for the MIA.  “The many stories behind these statistics – new jobs for locals, new investment in our community and increased global access for residents and visitors alike – are every bit as important as the numbers themselves,” González added in a recent press statement. The value of trade through the Miami Customs District fell 3.3 percent in 2013, dropping it two levles to twelfth position among 43 customs districts of the US. Imports and exports moving through the Miami district, which includes airport and seaports stretching from Palm Beach County to Key West, fell to $120.49 billion in 2013. Exports totaled $67.9 billion last year — down 7.17 percent from the previous year — while imports were up 2.2 percent to $52.56 billion. The distortion that you find in the trade numbers is because Miami is an important transshipment point for gold heading from Mexican and South American mines to Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. The value of imports and exports is just one way to get a snapshot of what’s going on with trade. Tonnage is another yardstick. Miami is also a hub for many perishable imports, including flowers from Colombia and Ecuador, fruits and vegetables from Central America, and fish from Chile. Despite a sluggish economy at home, Brazil, for example, remained the Miami district’s top trading partner in 2013 with $16.8 billion in total trade and Colombia at $9.34 billion came in at second rank. The others in the top ten list include Costa Rica, China, Venezuela, Peru, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Switzerland. Even though the value of trade that moved through the Miami Customs District dropped in 2013, US trade with the world grew .62 percent to $3.85 trillion. As part of enhancing Port Miami’s position as a logistic hub for international trade and travel the port authority is investing $2 billion in a public private partnership project which includes the Miami Access Tunnel which is set to divert 16,000 trucks per day from downtown roads when it opens later this year. The upgrades also include bringing rail access to the port — again, to relieve downtown Miami truck traffic — and dredging the port channel to 50 feet to handle mega-ships after the Panama Canal expansion is completed in 2015. Port Miami will be the only port on the US south Atlantic coast until Norfolk, Virginia to be able to host the larger ships that require a 50-foot draft. The four-lane Miami Access Tunnel — two lanes in each direction — will link the port directly to Interstate-395 on the MacArthur Causeway that connects Miami Beach and mainland Miami. For truckers, it avoids five traffic lights, reducing fuel costs, pollution and time on trips west to the warehouses in Doral or points north. The city of Miami has been in the news recently when Port Miami supporters, an alliance of shipping interests and a billionaire car dealer, opposed footballer David Beckham’s plans to build a soccer stadium near the port. They recently took out full page advertisements in city news papers protesting against the Beckham project. The advertisement specifically raised the prospect of lost jobs in traditional port working — crane operators, longshoremen and others — if the stadium plan goes ahead. The argument was that the expansion of the Panama Canal will generate these sort of jobs and that to lose them in favour of low paid stadium jobs would be a negative step. Now with the FIFA World Cup just round the corner, Miami International Airport will be at the crossroads of the global sporting event. With air connections to 10 of the 12 host cities in Brazil, Miami will likely experience the biggest effect of any city outside of Brazil. American Airlines, for example, is offering a promotion that will allow Brazil-bound passengers to disembark in Miami for 48 hours before flying on to Brazil without incurring any extra flight charges. “We’re pitching Miami as the next best thing to being in Brazil for the football world cup,” said Marilyn DeVoe, VP, American Airlines in Miami. MIA already has more flights to Brazil than any other US airport, but for the world cup, American, TAM and GOL, the three airlines that serve Brazil from Miami, are increasing the frequency of flights, putting larger aircraft on some routes or adding new service. 

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