Chilean Trade Commissioner Sacha Garafulic, right, chats about trade growth opportunities with, from left, Port Manatee Executive Director Carlos Buqueras and Manatee County Port Authority Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh.
Chilean Trade Commissioner Sacha Garafulic, right, chats about trade growth opportunities with, from left, Port Manatee Executive Director Carlos Buqueras and Manatee County Port Authority Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh.

PALMETTO, Florida – Port Manatee and Chile are pursuing considerable opportunities to boost two-way trade, according to a Chilean official who visited the Central Florida Gulf Coast port Thursday.
“We’re looking forward to developing a closer commercial relationship,” said Sacha Garafulic, who serves as trade commissioner of Chile in his position as director of ProChile, the Chilean government’s export promotion organization. “We have a lot of potential that has not yet been developed.”

Garafulic, who spoke at the Manatee County Port Authority’s meeting and toured the port, including the International Trade Hub at Port Manatee, said he believes the hub could serve as a launching pad for enhanced commercial ties.

“We could work together and develop closer relations between Port Manatee and Chilean companies, with the hub as one of the starting points,” he said, adding that the Miami-based Chile-U.S. Chamber of Commerce also could play an integral role.

Garafulic, who is based in Miami, pointed out that Chile is engaged in about $5 billion a year of trade with South Florida seaports and airports, with northbound salmon, wines and fresh fruits among key commodities, but in 2016 sent just $6.5 million of goods – mostly salts used in making fertilizer – to Port Manatee while receiving no exports from Port Manatee.

“Much opportunity for growth exists,” Garafulic added, noting that annual two-way trade between the United States and Chile has quadrupled since the U.S.-Chile Free-Trade Agreement entered into force in 2004.

Vanessa Baugh, chairwoman of the Manatee County Port Authority, shared in the enthusiasm, commenting, “We are eager to explore mutually beneficial opportunities for growing imports from Chile and adding exports to Chile from Port Manatee to the mix.”

Carlos Buqueras, Port Manatee’s executive director, said, “As one of Latin America’s most stable and prosperous nations, Chile offers tremendous potential for greater commerce with Port Manatee, as the gateway to the burgeoning Central Florida market and beyond. We are committed to working more closely with Chilean companies and trade officials, including through the International Trade Hub at Port Manatee.”

Since opening in 2014, the International Trade Hub at Port Manatee has played a vital role in expanding global connections for the port and Manatee County businesses. In recent months, the hub also has been visited by trade officials from Guatemala, Colombia, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic in conjunction with presentations made to the Manatee County Port Authority.

Located “Where Tampa Bay Meets the Gulf of Mexico,” Port Manatee is the closest U.S. deepwater seaport to the expanded Panama Canal, with 10 40-foot-draft berths serving container, bulk, breakbulk, heavylift, project and general cargo customers. The port generates more than $2.3 billion in annual economic impact for the local community, while supporting more than 24,000 jobs, without levying ad-valorem taxes.