Could Cuba be Texas’ next big trading partner?

Houston Chronicle

If Texas were its own nation, it would have the 12th largest economy in the world, according to a 2015 analysis by the Texas Comptroller’s office. Ringing up at $1.648 Trillion, the Lone Star State has a higher Gross Domestic Product (GDP) than the two biggest economies in the Middle East, Turkey & Saudi Arabia, combined.

Now, as the U.S. begins rolling back fifty years of failed isolationist policy toward Cuba, Texas businesses stand to benefit in a big way. “Texas is a leading economic driver for the U.S. economy and opening up trade with Cuba would provide tremendous opportunities for businesses across the state,” said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba, a bi-partisan coalition of businesses and organizations working to end the travel and trade embargo with the island nation.

Williams noted that Texas businesses sit on the sidelines as foreign competitors continue to take advantage of Cuba’s growing markets. But perhaps not for long; this week, the DC-based advocacy group launched the Engage Cuba Texas State Council made up of business and government leaders, & leading academics from across the state.

“Texas is the number #1 exporting state in the United States and manufacturers are eager to explore trade opportunities with Cuba when the time is right,” says Tony Bennett, President and CEO of the Texas Association of Manufacturers. Bennett is among more than forty founding members of the state council.

Next week, the Texas Lyceum, the state’s premiere non-partisan leadership organization, hosts a conference in Havana focused on trade opportunities. Lyceum President Dave Shaw, also among the founding members of the Engage Cuba Texas Council, says the conference is part of the Lyceum’s mission to explore the issues that help shape the future of Texas, “Cuba presents a rare opportunity for Texas to develop a new trading partner.”

“The Lyceum is visiting Cuba to give us a window into its economy, politics and culture so we can bring a better understanding of this important neighbor to our state’s key decision makers,” he said.

For now, Engage Cuba and its eight state councils are advocating for passage of three bills pending before Congress: TheAgricultural Export Expansion Act, which would allow U.S. farmers to offer financing to Cuban importers; The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act; and the Cuba Trade Act of 2015, which would lift the trade embargo and allow exports of goods and services.

All three bills, which are awaiting action in both chambers, enjoy wide bi-partisan support, including several members from the Texas delegation.