Doing business with Cuba: some success but pace is slow
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
With just months left before the end of the Obama administration, the
clock is ticking for new business and regulatory overtures toward Cuba.
A Miami business conference organized by Datamyne and NEXCO, an
international trade organization, Thursday reviewed events since the
United States and Cuba began the process of normalizing relations Dec.
17, 2014, and explored what might be accomplished before the end of
President Barack Obama's term.
While two companies reported progress, other speakers expressed
frustration that business engagement with Cuba is not proceeding as
rapidly as some had hoped.
Leonor Villanueva, of Delta Air Lines, said the airline planned to begin
daily service from Miami to Havana Dec. 1. It also plans to offer Havana
service from Atlanta and New York's JFK airport.
And Saul Berenthal, co-founder of Cleber — an Alabama company that has
submitted a proposal to the Cuban government to manufacture light
tractors and construction equipment in Cuba's Mariel Special Economic
Development Zone — said the company recently received a U.S. license
that would allow it to sell a wide range of U.S.-made construction and
agricultural components and parts to the Cuban government.
If Cuba approves the manufacturing project, it will mesh nicely with
Berenthal's sales plan. "What good is a tractor if you can't sell the
implements to make it work?" he asked.
But he said he had no idea when the ventures might come to fruition
because the Cuban government works at its own pace. Echoing the words of
Cuban leader Raúl Castro on economic changes taking place on the island,
he said: "Sin prisa pero sin pausa (without rushing but without stopping).
Attendees at the conference, "Preparing for Trade with Cuba," at the
Pullman Miami Airport Hotel, said "preparing" is still the operative
word when it comes to U.S. business ventures and trade with Cuba.
Other than the advent of regularly scheduled flights between the United
States and Cuba, several deals in the telecom and hospitality industries
and Stonegate Bank's banking relationship with the Cuban government, few
U.S. companies have struck deals with Cuba since the rapprochement.
The embargo remains in place, but U.S. regulatory changes under the
Obama administrations have made it easier for American companies to do
business with Cuba.
John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council,
said there have been dozens of offers by U.S. companies that want to do
business in Cuba under the new rules. "Some have been told no, but
others, they've just heard nothing," he said. "This is not like pouring
water; it is like pouring molasses."
"By our calculation, 3,000 representatives of U.S. companies have been
to Cuba," he said. But most are just testing the waters and haven't
traveled with a business visa or met with Cuban officials, he said.
The problem, he said, is the Cuban government is "saying yes to the
interest of U.S. companies but they're saying no to a commercial
relationship with U.S. companies.
"We're running out of time. Cuba will never have a more enthusiastic
negotiating partner than President Obama," Kavulich said.
Lee Ann Evans, the senior policy adviser for Engage Cuba, encouraged
companies to continue applying for licenses to do business with Cuba.
The more business ties are established between the U.S. and Cuba, "the
harder it will be to roll back the relationship" with Cuba, regardless
of who is in the White House next year, she said.
Evans also said another set of regulatory changes that would make it
easier to do business with Cuba will be released soon.
Kavulich said those new regulations should come out as soon as possible
so all parties have time to adjust, accept and implement them.
"President Obama should go all in … and leave only for his successor the
shepherding of a legislative agenda," he said.
"I predict nothing will happen with big American business in Cuba until
the embargo is lifted," said Berenthal. But he also said he thought that
could happen as soon as next year.
Source: Miami conference, organized by Datamyne and NEXCO, discusses
preparing to trade and do business with Cuba | In Cuba Today -