TO FLORIDA, FREE TRADE COULD MEAN A CONCRETE JUNGLE
by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Boca Raton, Fla.
MIAMI -- A successful Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) could bring an end to Florida as we know it.
The Miami Herald this week quoted Andrew Lavigne, chief of Florida Citrus Mutual, as saying straight out that a victory for FTAA means Brazil will be the only significant source of frozen orange juice concentrate. Of course, his dire prediction could make realtors, builiders, car dealers, road builders, and Wal-Mart shareholders smile.
Keep in mind that I supported both NAFTA and GATT, and generally believe in open markets. But driving through lighter-than-normal traffic on the day the Miami FTAA meetings - threatened by demonstrations - got underway, made me think a bit beyond conventional wisdom.
Developing countries don't want foreign corporations controlling their economies, but developed economies don't want local interference in building 800-line "calling centers" in Panama, or textile assembly plants in Guatemala.
Colombian coffee growers want favorable treatment in their own hemisphere, while Ecuadorian and Peruvian fishermen don't want encroachment from the Japanese. And on and on it goes.
But that one little item - citrus - in the long FTAA agenda caught my eye, and it had to do with that comment about Brazil and citrus fruit.
Depending upon the Florida crop in any given year, the so-called American frozen concentrated orange juice you purchase might have a hefty percentage of Brazilian fruit content.
Brazil has eclipsed Florida in many markets as the source of orange and grapefruit juice. Rising real estate and commercial land prices in Florida have relegated quality citrus to an ever-shrinking swath of land from Vero Beach to Lakeland, down to the northern shores of Lake Okeechobee and into a piece of Martin County. There are a few groves producing commercially in Palm Beach County, and a pocket of specialty citrus acreage - key limes, lemons, limes - in southern Miami-Dade County.
Two generations ago citrus was king as far north as Ocala and Daytona Beach, and competed with cattle in Orlando and regions such as Clermont and Kissimmee for agricultural revenue. These days, Orange and Citrus counties only live up to their namesakes in Florida history books.
The state has no "price controls" on Florida-grown citrus. One FTAA analyst has speculated that "free trade" for the Americas means a free flow of Brazilian citrus into the U.S. markets.
The water, air pollution, and infrastructure problems already facing Florida's aquifer, and its growing urban megalopolis, gravel;y threaten the remaining patches of citrus fruits. U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists, studying Central Florida birds and wildlife, have annually reported a decline in whitetail deer, dove, turkey, and other populations. Ironically, only feral hogs - feeding in suburban areas with fewer human hunters and natural predators - seem to prosper as orange and lemon groves are turned into housing developments and gas stations. Since some of these wild pigs are diseased, their success at procreation is not a blessing for the state's environment.
At the macroeconomic level, most political leaders seem to favor "free trade." But there is danger ahead when "free trade" conflicts with "fair trade." Ask the shoe companies that left New England; textile makers who left North Carolina, and television manufacturers who left all of the U.S. and Canada.
Mark Scheinbaum, who taught Political Science at the University of Florida and the University of South Florida, is chief investment strategist for Kaplan & Co. Securities (www.kaplansecurities.com).