Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lifting Cuban embargo a trade-off for S. Fla. business

Lifting Cuban embargo a trade-off for S. Fla. business
Miami businesses could benefit -- and be hurt -- if the trade embargo
against Cuba is lifted, a new report says.

Miami's economy would likely be hurt by a flood of highly subsidized
Cuban exports if Congress lifts the trade embargo against the island
before there are significant political changes there, the Greater Miami
Chamber of Commerce said in a new report released Saturday.

But South Florida also stands to benefit from a surge of business
opportunities both here and in Cuba, the report contends, and leaders
should prepare for such a scenario or risk missing out on an
unprecedented boon to South Florida's economy.

The report, titled The Business Impact of a Post-Embargo Cuba, marks the
first time that the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has looked at the
embargo from the standpoint of an undemocratic Cuba.

''We recognize that it's become very clear that it is possible that the
U.S. government will lift the embargo at some point even if Cuba is not
free as we previously defined it,'' said chamber chairman Bruce Jay
Colan. ``We have to prepare. We would be foolish to stick our heads in
the sand. What we cannot do is sit back and wait for Cuba to be free.''

The move is significant, underscoring a perceived shift in public and
political opinion on the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

With Fidel Castro officially out of power in Cuba, and President Barack
Obama in power in Washington, anti-embargo activists have gained
tremendous momentum in recent months to lift decades-old sanctions.

Several bills that would permit trade and travel with the communist
country are currently winding through Congressional committees. Obama,
who already liberalized travel for Americans with relatives on the
island, has said he supports the embargo.


The report outlines different ways Miami could both be hurt and benefit
from a post-embargo Cuba.

If the embargo is lifted with a totalitarian regime in place, then local
businesses would likely be unprotected by the island's legal system, the
report states.

The region could be deluged with cigars, rum and other goods of
questionable quality which were highly subsidized by the Cuban
government and prepared by workers operating outside international labor

''Miami businesses could face an unprecedented level of unfair
competition by Cuban exports not governed by international free market
practices,'' the report said.

But Miami could also become a hub of businesses drawn here to set up
Cuba-related enterprises, because the infrastructure on the island is so

''Businesses will be settling here,'' Colan said. ``There will be demand
for office space, housing and education. That's another way Miami would
be positively affected. It would be the single largest opportunity
Miami's economy ever had.''

However, improvements must be made to the Port of Miami and docks at the
Miami River to handle the expected influx of goods.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, a pro-embargo lobbyist in Washington, D.C.,
acknowledged the report is likely to ruffle some feathers in the Cuban
exile community.

''I think the most interesting part of the report is their finding that
if the U.S. unilaterally lifts the embargo, Miami and the United States
as a whole would suffer unfair competition from Cuban producers,'' he said.

''With all the focus and sensationalism in news reports about the Obama
administration and sanctions, it's an issue that's gotten a great deal
of attention, so I'm not surprised it's one of the scenarios, but they
should take the president at his word: the embargo will not be lifted
prior to Cuba's democratization,'' Claver-Carone said.

He added that lifting the embargo is easier said than done. As the law
now stands, Cuba would be required to hold elections, free political
prisoners and enact reforms before trade is opened.


Claver-Carone noted that one of the report's authors, Akerman Senterfitt
attorney Pedro Freyre, who chairs the chamber's Cuba Committee,
represents European companies interested in Cuba and has an ''inherent
business interest'' in legalized trade.

Freyre is an expert on the U.S. embargo who advises many European
nations on how not to run afoul of the Helms-Burton law. He could not be
reached for comment.

Colan stressed that the chamber has not taken a stance on the embargo.

''That's a political question that will be resolved by the federal
government,'' he said.

Miami Herald reporter Perry Stein contributed to this report.

Lifting Cuban embargo a trade-off for S. Fla. business - Miami-Dade - (31 May 2009)

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