On his first trade mission Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott talked with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli about prospects for increased commerce though a free trade agreement and expansion of the Panama Canal.
The leaders seemed to hit it off, said Tampa port director Richard Wainio, among six Florida port executives who accompanied the governor. Like Scott, Martinelli comes from a business background. He owns a chain of groceries and has worked to bring business practices to the government.
"He seems to be a good ambassador for the state,'' Wainio said in a telephone interview from Panama City. "I think this was a good education for him.''
Scott recently announced his intention to divert money to Miami's port so it can handle larger ships that will move through the widened canal, starting in 2014.
Scott told Martinelli that he and Florida representatives in Washington are working to get a free trade agreement through Congress.
He posted on his Facebook page Thursday that he would "deliver the message that we are equipping Florida with the infrastructure necessary to handle the increase of trade that will come through the canal — better positioning Florida to become the gateway to Latin America and beyond.''
An executive with the Panama Canal Authority many years before moving to Florida, Wainio said the trip's biggest benefit might be the two leaders "meeting face to face, getting to know each other and building relationships'' for future deals.
Steve Huettel can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3384.