Concerted efforts to increase Atlanta’s exposure in the hemisphere, as well as the development of the city’s professional Hispanic community, have resulted in significant business relationships with Latin America even without a Free Trade Area of the Americas in place, Luis Aguilar told GlobalAtlanta.

Mr. Aguilar, an attorney with McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP and a leader in efforts to attract the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) secretariat to Atlanta, will receive the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund Leadership Award on April 28.

“Business people from Latin America are getting on planes and coming up here [to Atlanta] because they have heard what Georgia has been doing in the few last years through our FTAA missions,” Mr. Aguilar said. “It would be great to get the FTAA, but I hope the community continues to put money into this effort, not necessarily for the FTAA, but as a platform to educate our brethren in the hemisphere about what Atlanta has to offer for business.”

Mr. Aguilar, who will also become chairman of the Latin American Association’s board of directors on April 28, applauds Atlanta’s increasingly professional Hispanic community for also helping to attract more Latin American businesses here.

Public-private partnerships fostering business between Georgia and Latin America, like CIFAL-Atlanta, have grown from efforts to bring the FTAA to Atlanta, Mr. Aguilar said. CIFAL is one of 12 international training centers assisting the United Nations’ Geneva-based Institute for Training and Research in promoting economic and social development.

“The private side of these partnerships that can actually leverage economic development is something that I think has been lost on the local community. These partnerships, along with local bi-national chambers and Hispanic professional groups, are what really drive business,” Mr. Aguilar asserted, citing as an example an Argentine business mission coming to Atlanta in June to attend the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s annual gala.

In the last nine months, FTAA efforts have been focused more on inviting key economic and political figures in the hemisphere to come to Atlanta rather than Atlantans going abroad, Mr. Aguilar noted. He said that events here, such as this week’s visits of Caribbean officials and the upcoming May 4-5 Sumaq Summit, give Atlanta a chance to showcase the city and introduce visitors to its “power players.”

The Sumaq Summit is an annual conference in Atlanta that brings together representatives of eight leading universities in Latin America and Spain with senior executives of U.S. and Latin American companies to discuss international business strategies.

Atlanta officials are still promoting the city abroad as the best choice for the FTAA Secretariat, but FTAA negotiations have been delayed by stalemates in discussions surrounding agreement terms among the 34 participating countries. Talks may resume in June, according to some sources.

Even without the FTAA in place, however, Mr. Aguilar contends that Atlanta’s Hispanic professional community draws Latin American businesses here.

“Business people coming here now from Latin America have more support groups to get into the industry they want. They can now network more effectively by subdividing their contacts into not only Spanish speakers but also specific sectors like real estate, finance, et cetera.” He mentioned the National Society of Hispanic MBAs local chapter and the Atlanta chapter of the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting as examples of local specialty Hispanic groups.

Mr. Aguilar also heralded McKenna Long’s global presence as a good support base for his international work and Atlanta’s hemispheric efforts.

Contact Mr. Aguilar at (404) 527-8470 or for more information. Contact MALDEF about its annual awards gala on April 28 at (678) 559-1071. Visit for more information about CIFAL-Atlanta’s activities.