Why is the Miami-Dade mayor visiting Japan? She’s looking for deals and other things.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava will lead a group of business executives and politicians on a visit to Tokyo starting Sunday to improve trade ties and spur greater investment between Japan and South Florida.

Levine Cava has several meetings scheduled during the 10-day trip with Japanese business executives to discuss transportation, infrastructure and attracting investment, according to a draft itinerary obtained by the Miami Herald through a public records request.

She plans to meet on Thursday with executives from Japan Airlines to continue to push for direct flights between Japan and Miami. There has never been one. “One of the priorities for the mayor and I is to promote a direct flight between Japan and Miami,” said Kazuhiro Nakai, Consul General of Japan in Miami, in an interview with the Herald earlier this month,

“We are hoping to open up a direct flight to Tokyo. When we had the baseball championships that involved Japan, we saw a direct flight. It whet our appetite for having a direct flight. That is certainly one of the reasons,” Levine Cava said in an interview with the Herald.

Then, on Friday, Levine Cava is to participate in a signing ceremony for an agreement with the Port of Yokohama, a sister port to Miami, to improve business ties, especially with freight. She will visit that port the following Monday.

The mayor is co-leading the group together with the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and Oliver Gilbert, chair of the County Commission. Also traveling are county Commissioners Marleine Bastien, Juan Carlos Bermudez, and Kevin Marino Cabrera. They will spend eight nights in Tokyo and two nights in Kyoto.

At least 30 businesses from South Florida and about 20 from Japan are expected to participate in the discussions, according to the Chamber of Commerce.

Japan is Florida’s second largest importer of merchandise, totaling $9 billion in 2022. Automobile and aerospace are key sectors.

Japan also exports to South Florida, Hitachi Rail has provided several train cars to Miami’s metrorail. The parent company of Brightline was SoftBank until earlier this year when it sold it.

Nakai said much greater cooperation can occur in aerospace, technology, pharmaceuticals, and life sciences. “I am convinced there is still much room for further development.”

Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce President Alfred Sanchez said elder care and affordable housing are two areas where South Florida leaders can learn from Japan.

“All of the issues that we’re facing today here in Miami, they’ve really done a lot to address over there,” he said.

The current trip builds on past visits by other Florida political leaders.

In April, Gov. Ron DeSantis led a trade mission to Japan where he met with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and a variety of business leader, including executives with All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines.

Nakai, the consul general in Miami, who helped organize DeSantis’ meeting with JAL, said, “the governor did a very good job in elaborating the huge business potential” of direct flights between Japan and Florida.

Then in October, the state organized another trip with SelectFlorida and Secretary of State Cord Byrd leading the way.

The current visit by Levine Cava shows interest in strengthening Florida-Japan ties is bipartisan.

“I also encouraged the mayor to talk to leaders at JAL,” Nakai said because of Miami International Airport.

Levine Cava will also visit with Japan’s ministry of land, infrastructure, transport, and tourism and its external trade organization, called Jetro.

She is also scheduled to meet with Masaaki Takei, mayor of Minato, a subsection of Tokyo. It houses numerous embassies and business headquarters including Honda, Sony, and SoftBank Group, and foreign firms such as Apple and Goldman Sachs.

Other notable meetings the mayor will have include one with Sompo, the second largest property insurance company in Japan, and Mitsui. She will also visit Nikkei, the Japanese media company that owns the Financial Times.

Local business representatives on the trip include Alice Bravo & Associates, Altura Capital, Covanta Dade Renewable Energy, TIC Aerospace, and the Miami Dade Beacon Council. Most are members of the chamber and are paying their own way, Sanchez said.

Interview with the mayor

The Herald interviewed Levine Cava before she departed for Tokyo. Below are excerpts lightly edited.

Q: What is the origin and motivation of this trip?

A: I think Japan is an important partner in a variety of areas, and we have a very active Consul General from Japan who has been extremely welcoming and supportive.

We are hoping to open up a direct flight to Tokyo. When we had the baseball championships that involved Japan, we saw a direct flight. It whet our appetite for having a direct flight. That is certainly one of the reasons.

We also have a sister port, Yokohama. It is always beneficial to reactivate the ties with the sister port. Presumably it will benefit us by increasing trade and commerce for our ports here and opening up markets for us. Commercial activity at the ports is a huge driver of our economy.

We have a lot of companies in technology, transportation, and solid waste space, things we are working on aggressively where Japan has a lot of expertise. It’s exciting for us to go and learn as well. We’re going to meet with Japanese investment prospects. We want to promote Miami as a tech and innovation hub in our meeting with Jetro (Japan’s external trade association).

Q: In transport and infrastructure, are there specific Japanese companies or projects that you’re hopeful can help Miami-Dade County or that have shown signs of promise?

A: We have worked with transportation companies already. We do have a lot of Japanese companies that have come forward on our infrastructure projects.

Waste is very big now that we have this opportunity to rebuild our waste program. Japan is famously free of garbage. We want to understand how they do that.

Q: On the waste incinerator, is it conceivable you may find a partnership in Japan?

A: Yes, it is very possible, either a technology or a business partnership.

Q: How can you be certain this will be a worthwhile trip in terms of costs involved versus the benefits?

A: There’s no real guarantee and that’s part of why I have not been on many, because I do want to be sure and mindful of the cost for sure. I very carefully select them based on particular opportunities that I think are important to the county.

But my experience with Israel (the last trade mission she co-led in 2022) was very positive, and I feel very confident there’s a real strong interest on the part of the Japanese government as well as businesses. They are eager to open up more business deals with us, and that it will be beneficial to us.

I don’t know there’s a guarantee or return on investment we can calculate at this time, but we will be looking to categorize that afterwards, and to be able to showcase what was achieved.

People like to do business in person. It shows a real dedication and commitment to the relationship.

Q: There is always a chance some residents will view this trip as a junket instead of a trip to secure investment down the road. What do you say to them?

A: It’s good that the public wants to know that we’re not just going on a vacation. I can tell you my husband did not want to go because last time it was no vacation at all. It was no fun. It was business meeting after business meeting. It’s a very serious matter.

We’re there to open business opportunities. I’ve got a lot of work to do at home and I would not be going if I didn’t feel very optimistic that it would enhance our economy here at home. We are keeping track of the outcomes like we did for our last trip (to Israel).

Q: Tell us more about the significance of the sister port agreement?

A: We are the number one cruise port in the world.

We are number 11 container port in the U.S. and so, we still have a lot of room for growth in terms of containers. And we are creating new space to the port with more elevated storage. We are unique in our capacity for big ships.

We are competing with other ports for business, and so we’re there selling ourselves as a great destination port and opening up those opportunities.


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