Port Manatee, Japan bolstering commercial ties
PALMETTO, Florida - Port Manatee and Japan are strengthening commercial connections with the visit today [Dec. 15] of the Asian nation's top Florida-based official to the Gulf Coast port and its global trade hub.
"Japanese company colleagues generally find Florida to be a good place to live and do business," said Ken Okaniwa, a Japanese diplomat since 1984, who has served since 2015 as consul general of Japan in Miami. "This is not a surprise, because many of them have achieved growing revenues and expanded operations.
"We now look to further expand those mutually beneficial commercial ties," Okaniwa said following a luncheon presentation at the International Trade Hub at Port Manatee and meetings with area business leaders. "The purpose of my visit is to learn more about this area and to promote business ties with Japan."
Japan already is the No. 2 source of imports coming into Florida, with the more than $6.5 billion in Japanese goods entering the Sunshine State trailing only China among trade partners. Also, Japan has historically been the No. 1 country for foreign direct investment in Florida. Nearly 200 Japanese companies combine to account for about 24,200 Florida jobs, according to Okaniwa.
"Expanding trade with Japan bodes to further the positive economic impacts, including tens of thousands of family-wage jobs, generated by Port Manatee," said Vanessa Baugh, chairwoman of the Manatee County Port Authority. "We are extraordinarily impressed with the potential indicated for bolstering commerce, as we see vast opportunities to grow trade with Japan through Port Manatee."
Carlos Buqueras, Port Manatee's executive director, commented, "Port Manatee is most grateful for the opportunity to host Consul General Okaniwa, and we are encouraged by the interest shown in building upon our trade relationship. Port Manatee is a dynamic port that offers an ideal gateway for Japan to thriving Central and Southwest Florida markets."
The International Trade Hub at Port Manatee is entering its fifth year of providing a critical link between foreign interests and Central and Southwest Florida markets that combine to put nearly 10 million consumers within a two-hour drive of Port Manatee while attracting some 100 million annual visitors. In 2017 alone, the hub has hosted numerous high-level officials, including those representing Japan, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.
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.
Conferring about growing mutually beneficial commerce are, from left: Carlos Buqueras, executive director of Port Manatee; Ken Okaniwa, consul general of Japan in Miami; Vanessa Baugh, chairwoman of the Manatee County Port Authority; and Gary Tibbetts, special assistant to U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla.