MN businesses, leaders join forces to support open US-Cuba relations

Twin Cities Business

By: Kaleh Sapp

A large group of businesses, leaders, elected officials and organizations in Minnesota are joining together to support fostering a relationship with Cuba.

Engage Cuba is a group of private businesses and organizations working to end the 55-year trade and travel embargo on Cuba.

The group's new Minnesota State Council launched Monday, according to a press release today.

The state council is made up of local community leaders, businesses such as Cargill and Red Wing Shoe Company, and organizations including the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Minnesota Farm Bureau.

All are working together to support a new relationship between the U.S. and Cuba.

James Williams, President of Engage Cuba said in the release: "Minnesota’s agriculture, biomedical, and energy sectors are thriving. Opening up trade to Cuba and expanding investment opportunities for Minnesota businesses is critical to helping local businesses and the Cuban people."

According to the group, opening up trade with Cuba would allow Minnesota businesses to reach 11 million new customers.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Tom Emmer were present at the launch of the council. Both recently visited Cuba with President Obama.

Klobuchar has been a vocal leader in the recent push to end the U.S. trade embargo, and previously introduced legislation to end the embargo.

In Monday's release, the Democrat said the Minnesota State Council "will help us build on the momentum toward lifting the embargo."

As for Emmer, a Republican in his first term, he put forward his own embargo-ending bill just a few months later. He said he is "proud" to be there for the launch of the state council, adding it can be used to help "build a brighter future for both the Cuban and the American people."

Minnesota and Cuba

Since the U.S. restored diplomatic relations with Cuba last December, Minnesota has been frequently involved in developments.

A big reason for the push is business. Franken and Klobuchar have both cited the trade possibilities for Minnesota as reasons they support ending the embargo.

The Star Tribune reported the North Star State currently exports about $20 million worth of products per year to Cuba, due to a humanitarian waiver – but Klobuchar expects that to double if trade opens up.