Congresswoman Ileana Ros- Lehtinen of Florida’s 18th Congressional District, recently spoke to the business leaders of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce at the Quarterly Pillar Breakfast at La Gorce Country Club. Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen’s District stretches from Little Havana to Miami Beach, and from Key Biscayne to Key West. At this Quarterly Breakfast, key issues were addressed regarding boosting the economy through the engine of small businesses and foreign trade to the Miami Beach Community along with issues surrounding the Visa Waiver Act.
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen set the tone of her remarks by stating, “Small Businesses are the backbone of our nation’s economy, employing tens of millions of workers, and creating most of the new private sector jobs, which are important for economic growth.” Which she supported by highlighting statistics showing that according to the Small Business Administration, Florida has more than 2 million small businesses, which account for half of the private sector jobs in this state. With a National unemployment rate of 9%, it is important for institutions such as the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce to assist small businesses by promoting the economic well-being of the local community.
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen recently participated in the U.S. Export/Import Bank Forum and its focus to help small businesses increase their involvement in international trade. Florida was the number two state in exports sales in the nation in 2010 with over $1 billion, of which 73% of these sales were made by small businesses.
President Obama presented to Congress three trade agreements with Columbia, Panama and South Korea, which is going to expand international trade for the U.S., without increasing taxes. As Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Congresswoman Ros- Lehtinen recently held a hearing on the importance of these trade pacts to access overseas markets.
South Florida is known as the gateway to the Americas, and accessing the foreign markets in Columbia and Panama will further increase the economy for Miami-Dade County. Columbia is already Florida’s number 2 trading partner, and Panama sells with Miami have increased by 30% in trade. The U.S. International Trade Commission stated that these three trade agreements will increase U.S. exports by $10 billion of goods. The U.S. Budget Deficit has sky rocketed from $160 billion in 2007 to $1.64 trillion this year, and it is important for the House of Representatives to work together to bring about a full economic recovery for everyone, “So that Americans can do what they do best, create, innovate, and lead” said Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen.
The U.S. Visa Waiver program was addressed by her, which would allow travelers from Argentina, Chile and Brazil to visit the United States for up to 90 days without a visa. The problem stated by Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen is how these countries would fulfill the criteria to be admitted into the program, and how to fully monitor travelers over staying their Visas once they enter the United States.
She went on to delineate the criteria to participate in the Visa Waiver Program, specifying that a country must have had a nonimmigrant refusal rate of less than 3%, the country must certify that it has established a program to issue passport that are fraud resistant by incorporating biometric identifier, the country must accept the re-partition of any citizen for whom a removal order is issued, and it must share information regarding if an individual traveling to the United States presents a threat to the U.S. National Security. Security issues and passport control with countries like Brazil are of major concern for the House of Representatives in passing a Visa Waiver Program for Brazil.
These regulations are strictly enforced, though there is a Bill circulating to change some of the criteria. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen expressed to the group that she is aware of the economic benefits from granting countries such as Brazil, Chile and Argentina Visa Waiver status, however, to secure the Country from foreign threats, there are security items that must be addressed before these countries can be approved by Congress.
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen encourages the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce and its constituents to take a trip to Congress and to write letters addressing the importance of opening the Visa Waiver Program in countries in South America to assist the economic growth in South Florida and closed the session by fielding questions ranging from the Miami Beach Convention Center issues to reform of the Medical Insurance practices and making medications more affordable.