jennifer_carroll_web.jpgMIAMI — Political leaders and South Florida entrepreneurs are setting their sights on increased trade with South Africa to boost the region’s economic growth. Trade-related employment already accounts for 22 percent of the jobs in Florida.

 “Florida’s exporters are well-positioned to benefit from us going into the South African market,” according to Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll.

“We believe that renewing an emphasis on international trade will further enhance that and increase the opportunities for our workforce to grow,” she said.

When the economy went into recession, the one industry in Florida that remained vibrant was import/export, Carroll said. “We understand the critical role of trade and how it impacts our state.”

Florida’s 2011 year-to-date merchandise import/export trade with South Africa alone totaled $208.6 million as of July, a 34.5 percent increase from July 2010, according to data provided by Enterprise Florida Inc.

Trade with Africa, generally, and with South Africa in particular, took center stage at a recent two-day AfrICANDO Trade and Investment Symposium, the annual meeting of the Foundation for Democracy in Africa.  The organization supports the objectives of the U.S. African Trade and Investment Act of 2000. The sessions took place at the Miami Free Zone in Doral, northwest Miami-Dade. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dennis Moss, who co-chaired the symposium, welcomed the gathering.

“The time is long overdue for us to reconnect and help to build Africa,” said Broward County Commissioner Dale VC Holness. “And trade is a major way to do so. And while we are doing that, we can also build our local economy here in the states.”

Most people of color are not involved in trade, Holness said, “yet it is one of the largest industries in our nation.  And, in my opinion, it is the only hope for us to continue to grow our country, the economy and maintain the quality of life we have come to know.”

He said the Hispanic community in South Florida has created a tremendous amount of wealth through international trade “but we haven’t for a variety of reasons,” he said. “That’s something we’ll have to work on: getting our people accustomed to owning their own business and looking at opportunities for trade and export of our goods and services.”

Throughout the 14 years of AfrICANDO, trade has increased significantly, said Tony Okonmah, executive director of the Foundation for Democracy in Africa. “Africa has raw materials but most of the time they don’t have what it takes to add value to those products. That’s where the U.S. comes in, especially this region,” he said.

Cynthia Roby may be reached at

Photo: Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll