East Coast ports, including Charleston's, debate Cuban trade
By David Wren email@example.com Jan 29, 2017
El Nuevo Herald via Associated Press
The first legal exports from Cuba to the U.S. in more than 50 years
arrived at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last week. The
shipment aboard the K-Storm included two containers of artisanal charcoal.
Cuba is a relatively small player in global trade, but the country
presents some big opportunities - and, in some cases, headaches - for
maritime facilities along the East Coast, including the Port of Charleston.
The first legal export of goods from Cuba in more than a half-century
arrived last week at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The
arrival of two cargo containers of artisanal charcoal, the type used in
pizza and bread ovens, kicked off a firestorm as Gov. Rick Scott
threatened to cut funding from ports in the Sunshine State that do
business with the island's communist government.
"I don't believe any port in our state, none of them, should be doing
business with a brutal dictator," Scott said during a news conference,
referring to Cuban President Raul Castro.
That attitude contrasts with the Port of Virginia, which has signed a
memorandum of agreement with Cuban officials aimed at improving trade,
particularly in agricultural products.
"Virginia enjoys a uniquely productive economic relationship with Cuba,
and this (agreement) will generate additional opportunities for economic
and cultural exchange," Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement.
Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the State Ports Authority, said he
doesn't yet share Virginia's enthusiasm for trade with Cuba, in part
because of that country's poor maritime infrastructure. But the SPA
wouldn't turn away any cargo coming from Cuba.
"We don't make trade policy, so if the cargo comes here we would handle
it unless instructed not to by a relevant government entity, such as
Customs and Border Protection or other trade policing authority,"
A series of executive orders issued by former President Barack Obama
eased some trade restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba, but the
1960s-era embargo still exists. President Donald Trump has vowed to
reverse some of Obama's policies, but it is not clear whether he will
target Cuban trade.
"We've got nothing that we're ready to announce," Sean Spicer, Trump's
press secretary, told the Miami Herald last week.
Cuba is the world's 140th-largest exporter, according to government
statistics, with $1.74 billion worth of goods leaving that country for
foreign markets. Cuba's top exports are raw sugar, refined petroleum and
rolled tobacco. The country's top trading partners are China, the
Netherlands and Spain.
The SPA is testing a new automated gate system at its North Charleston
container terminal and plans to make its use mandatory for truckers
beginning Feb. 11. The tests, which started Saturday, will be conducted
on one entrance lane at a time and truckers can choose whether they want
to participate in the trial runs.
This is the same technology the SPA installed last year at its larger
Wando Welch container terminal in Mount Pleasant. In the weeks after
implementation there, computer glitches and other problems clogged roads
leading to the terminal and brought traffic throughout much of the
Charleston area to a standstill.
Those problems have been resolved and the SPA said it hopes there won't
be a repeat when the system goes live in North Charleston.
"We'll do everything possible to make sure this is as smooth a launch as
possible," said Barbara Melvin, the SPA's vice president of terminals
and operations. "I can't promise no hiccups, but we certainly are
looking for a much better outcome than what we saw at the launch at the
If there are problems, she said, "we hope for much less endurance time."
The gate system, called Go!Port, is used at most major U.S. maritime
facilities. The system uses an electronic kiosk where truckers are given
a slip of paper telling them where in the terminal they need to go for
their cargo. Computers and cameras then guide truckers through the
terminal as port workers view the action in a nearby control room.
Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_
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