By DARA KAM JANUARY 10, 2011
, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Posted: 10:55 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011
On his fifth day on the job, Gov. Rick Scott met with Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara to discuss trade and a controversial high-speed rail project from Tampa to Orlando. Maehara met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden in Washington on Friday and requested the visit with Scott, his aides said – his only official trip outside of the nation’s capital. Maehara, who formerly served as the country’s transportation minister, came to the Sunshine State primarily to pitch his country’s involvement in the high-speed rail project with Scott, who is dubious about the proposal. After the Saturday meeting in his Capitol office, Scott made no mention of trains during a brief statement to the media. Instead, he stressed his desire to expand trade and draw more businesses to Florida. Scott has pledged to bring 700,000 new jobs to the state in seven years. Scott gave the foreign minister a basket of oranges, a pair of cufflinks bearing the state seal and a photo album featuring Florida scenes. Maehara gave Scott a model of the Japanese high-speed train. The pair announced they would each host trade missions in Japan and Florida. ”We had a wonderful meeting. We talked about how Japan and Florida can work together better and expand trade both in Florida and in Japan and, of course, the Foreign Minister knows about the great opportunity that both Japan has and Florida has in growing our relationship with Latin America,” Scott said. Scott said he wants Maehara to return for a summit with Japanese business leaders to “talk about how Japanese companies can do more business here.” Maehara even offered a way that Japanese banks could provide loans for up to 60 percent of the cost of the $2.7 billion rail project. More than 200 Japanese companies are located in Florida and more than 7,000 Japanese workers live here, Maehara said. Scott has said he doesn’t want taxpayers to have to pay for the project, especially with the state facing a $3.5 billion deficit. A report by the Reason Foundation, a California-based conservative think tank released last week states the project could cost more than double the $2.7 billion estimate and goes so far as recommending walking away from the plan altogether.