Patience an asset for U.S. businesses seeking opportunities in Cuba
By Marc Frank | HAVANA
Red tape and slow approvals from Washington and Havana make it hard for
U.S. companies to do business in Cuba despite a detente between the U.S.
and Cuban governments, according to American executives in Havana for an
annual trade fair this week.
Many vowed to keep trying, though, as reconciliation between the former
Cold War foes slowly opens the door to a new market.
In the build-up to the fair, representatives from 25 U.S. companies
spoke about opportunities on the Communist-ruled island as they gathered
at the former U.S. Businessmen's Club in Old Havana. It was a symbolic
location, in a building taken over by Fidel Castro's revolutionary
government after the overthrow of a U.S.-backed dictatorship in 1959.
A U.S. hotel, cruise ships and commercial flights have appeared in Cuba
for the first time in more than 50 years, since U.S. President Barack
Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, announced in 2014 that
they would work toward normalizing relations.
But while Obama has loosened the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, the
Republican-controlled U.S. Congress has not heeded his calls to end it.
Together with Cuba's bureaucracy and ongoing allergy to capitalism, that
means serious opportunities on the large island close to Florida remain
a struggle for most U.S. companies.
"We are seeking a blanket license from the U.S. Treasury Department for
all our products. We have been waiting a while already, something like
10 months," said Hector Rodriguez, sales manager at Puerto Rico company
Rimco, the official dealer for Caterpillar's (CAT.N) Cuba business and
one of the trade fair's exhibitors.
Progress has been made in areas such as civil aviation and
telecommunications, but not others such as infrastructure, energy and
health, said Myron Brilliant, executive vice president of the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce, which represents many at the fair and hosted the
meeting at the old downtown business club.
"There has been significant, historic progress on the political front
while on the commercial, only incremental progress," said Brilliant,
whose group represents corporations eying or already in Cuba, including
American Airlines (AAL.O), Dow Chemical Co (DOW.N), Fifth Street Asset
Management (FSAM.O) First Data Corp (FDC.N) and General Electric Co (GE.N).
"Cuba has not been a country that has encouraged foreign investment,
profitability, entrepreneurship and innovation, and these remain
sensitive cultural issues," Brilliant said, voicing frustration that
more deals had not been signed and admiration that so many of his
members took a long view and remained interested in Cuba.
Hundreds of U.S. companies and their legal counsels have met Cuban
officials over the last year to discuss trade and investment, often
accompanying local, state and national politicians.Some companies have
lost interest, but many remain in contact with Cuban officials.
"You are trying to undo 55 years of enmity and that requires patience,"
said Pedro Freyre, chair of international practice at Akerman LLP, and
who travels frequently to Havana, adding that some clients became
frustrated, but most understood.
"That you can use your cell phone in Cuba, that you can catch a flight
out of New York or Ft. Lauderdale, that Cuban programmers are doing work
for U.S. companies, that a cruise ship regularly docks here, that is
remarkable," he said.
(Reporting by Marc Frank, additional reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing
by Frank Jack Daniel and Tom Brown)
Source: Patience an asset for U.S. businesses seeking opportunities in
Cuba | Reuters -