CLEARWATER — With convenient flights through Panama and a new visa waiver program, Tampa Bay area business leaders have their eyes on Chile as a future trade partner.
In December, the mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg, along with Hillsborough and Pinellas county commissioners, plan to visit the small, politically stable nation along the western edge of South America.
This week, economic development officials on both sides of the bay offered a public invitation to area manufacturers, medical suppliers and other businesses to join the Chilean mission in hopes of contributing to the $17 billion in U.S. exports that flow into the country each year.
The Tampa Bay Export Alliance hosted meetings in Tampa and Clearwater on Tuesday and Wednesday for local companies that may apply to join the trip scheduled for Dec. 1 through 5.
“We are really excited. Chile is a stable country. It’s a prosperous country. There are going to be plenty of opportunities for businesses to market their goods and services,” said Pinellas County Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel, who will take part in the trade mission.
“I am thrilled about the across-the-bay cooperation and the fact we’re going as a Tampa Bay region.”
The mayors of the region’s two largest cities, Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg’s Rick Kriseman, will join Seel and Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller on the visit to the Chilean capital, Santiago.
The nation of 17 million people is a major global exporter of natural resources such as copper, fruit and fish.
But it has very limited manufacturing, meaning the equipment used in its top industries is mostly imported from trade partners like the United States, said Isabel Margarita Valenzuela, senior commercial specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago.
“We are not a manufacturing country, so all kinds of machinery and equipment for any kind of industry is imported,” Valenzuela said during Wednesday’s meeting at the Pinellas County Economic Development offices in Clearwater.
Area companies may apply for grants from Enterprise Florida to help offset the cost of the trip. During the visit, they will have opportunities to hobnob with the nation’s leading companies, all of which keep headquarters in Santiago.
A direct flight from Tampa International Airport to Panama City on Latin America’s largest carrier, Copa Airlines, that started in December has made travel to Chile and other South American countries much more convenient.
Chile also was included in a waiver program announced this spring that allows Chileans to visit the United States for 90 days or less without obtaining a travel visa.