Cuba wants access to Orlando market through Port Tampa Bay
Paul Guzzo, Times Staff Writer
Sunday, September 18, 2016 7:43pm
ANDRES LEIVA | TimesPort Tampa Bay bought two gantry cranes for $24
million to help it market itself as a gateway to Central Florida. The
cranes will help grow the port's cargo container business.
TAMPA — Mickey Mouse might have as much of an impact on Tampa-Cuba
relations as José Martí.
Before the embargo against the island-nation, Tampa and Cuba were major
trading partners. Tampa primarily sent cattle and got tobacco.
Local leaders who favor normalizing relations are now pushing for a
renewed trade relationship with Cuba. And they believe Port Tampa Bay
has an edge over competing U.S. ports because of a century-old
connection between Tampa and Cuba that includes the use of Ybor City by
freedom fighter José Martí as a staging ground during his War of
Independence against Spain in the 1890s.
Port Tampa Bay is indeed a preferred partner for Cuba's Port of Mariel,
according to a statement to the Tampa Bay Times by TC Mariel, the
company that runs the container shipment operation there.
But access to Orlando is the reason, not any shared history, according
to the statement, forwarded to the Times by TC Mariel's managing
director Charles Baker.
Orlando is coveted because it is a destination for tourists and home to
many regional distribution hubs for inbound cargo that would prefer
their containers land in nearby Tampa rather than Miami.
Even as the embargo endures, according to the TC Mariel statement, the
Port of Mariel and Port Tampa Bay still can prosper from a relationship
if Congress or the president repeals a separate federal rule — one
prohibiting ships from any country that dock in Cuba from docking in the
United States within 180 days.
Direct trade with Cuba would still be forbidden in the United States
because of the embargo, but a repeal of the 180-day rule might allow
other nations to send cargo to Tampa through Cuba.
That echoes what Baker recently told the U.S.-based global trade
publication, the Journal of Commerce.
"If you allow transshipment to take place from Mariel to U.S. ports, you
could open up service to Tampa, which is the closest port to Orlando,"
Baker is quoted as saying.
This falls in line with efforts by Port Tampa Bay to market its facility
as a gateway to Central Florida, made possible through the recent
purchase of two giant gantry cranes to help grow cargo container
business and by the state's construction of the Interstate 4 Crosstown
Connector that moves traffic quickly from the port to Interstate 4 and
on to Orlando.
"Port Tampa Bay is Cuba-ready and we are open to any legal
opportunities," said Edward Miyagishima, the port's vice president of
A delegation of Cuba's port leaders is expected to visit Port Tampa Bay
within the next few months.
Tampa-based international public relations firm Tucker/Hall will lead a
separate delegation of local maritime officials to Cuba in October to
speak with maritime counterparts there.
"If Mariel picks Tampa Bay as its priority entry point to the United
States, it will be transformative for our region," said Bill Carlson,
the president of Tucker/Hall. "We will have access to the world's markets."
The recent widening of the Panama Canal was designed to accommodate
larger sea vessels that can carry more cargo. Port Tampa Bay cannot
handle these ships.
But if such ships stop in ports that can, the cargo could be loaded onto
smaller boats to be taken to Tampa and then distributed throughout the
region. This is called transshipment.
The Port of Mariel was built to accommodate these larger ships. It
covers 180 square miles west of Havana and features factories, storage
for trade and the TC Mariel terminal, which has a current annual
capacity of around 800,000 containers and can be expanded to handle 3
The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved an amendment to the
2017 financial appropriations bill to repeal the 180-day docking rule.
If the amendment fails, the 180-day rule can still be worked around,
said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
By order of the president, the Treasury Department can issue a general
license allowing cargo ships to sail between the United States and Cuba
as frequently as needed.
That's how the cruise industry is able to run regular trips from the
United States to Cuba despite also being bound by the 180-day rule.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, has sponsored a bill to end the Cuban
Meantime, Castor supports repealing the 180-day rule to open
transshipment between the Port of Mariel and Port Tampa Bay.
"It is time that Congress moves forward with a modern policy towards
greater engagement with Cuba," Castor said, and stops imposing "outdated
restrictions on Americans and our communities and choke off jobs and
trade and put our ports at a disadvantage."
Contact Paul Guzzo at email@example.com or (813) 226-3394. Follow
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