By: Howard Koplowitz
Alabama's agriculture, auto and cruise industries would be the biggest winners should Congress lift the embargo on trade and travel with and to Cuba – a move that Gov. Robert Bentley endorses.
James Williams, the president of Engage Cuba, an umbrella coalition of private sector companies, trade associations and nonprofits that are working to help Congress end the embargo, said there are "very immediate, natural benefits" to Alabama if the 55-year-old embargo is lifted. Bentley was among one of nine governors that sent a letter urging Congress to do away with the bans.
"Obviously, agriculture is the biggest immediate beneficiary," Williams said in an interview with AL.com. In 2014, Alabama alone supported $33 million in agriculture sales to Cuba. While certain agriculture products are not subject to the embargo, Alabama farmers can't currently access credit for selling to Cuba.
Mobile, which is set to welcome the return of a Carnival cruise ship, would also experience an economic impact if the embargo is lifted and the cruise industry makes Cuba a destination.
"Given [Alabama's] geographical position relative to Cuba and the Port of Mobile, that should increase dramatically," Williams said. He added that Cuba invested $1.2 billion in an open seawater port to be a staging ground for larger ships in late 2016 to service the Gulf.
"Obviously there's a huge element of the cruise industry," Williams said. "Much of it touches Alabama as well as Miami, but the cruise industry is unified and extremely excited about Cuba."
Alabama's auto and tire plants would also benefit from automotive products being shipped to Cuba because of outdated transportation, according to Williams.
"Cuba is famous for its cars from the 1950s, but as they're starting to get more money and different types of an economy, this is something that's not going to be able to be sustained," he said.
Ending the travel ban could also be a boon to Alabama's airports if they connect to other airports with direct flights to Cuba. Engage Cuba estimated that between 2 million and 4 million Americans would travel to Cuba if the travel ban is lifted.
President Barack Obama used his executive powers in December to change the United States' policy toward Cuba. In August, the U.S. reopened its embassy in Havana. Obama said the old policy, introduced as part of an effort to bring democracy to Cuba, was a failure.