State leaders join advocacy group in seeking to end Cuba trade embargo

Lagniappe Weekly

By: Dale Liesch

Alabama already ships more than 10,000 tons of poultry to Cuba each month, but there are opportunities to ship even more, if the U.S. takes steps to continue clawing back at long-standing trade restrictions with the island nation.

A group of state leaders were on hand Tuesday at APM terminals to advocate for an end to the country’s trade embargo with Cuba during the official launch of Alabama’s Engage Cuba Council.

Since 2001, Alabama and other states have been allowed to conduct certain types of trade with Cuba, but restrictions on access to credit have required those dealings be done in cash, limiting the size of the market for U.S. goods there.

James Williams, president of D.C.-based advocacy group Engage Cuba said the restrictions limit the U.S. to roughly 10 percent of the market, or about $2 billion. In other parts of the Caribbean, the U.S. contributes to 60 to 70 percent of the market, he said.

Because of the opportunities Cuba presents, Engage Cuba is advocating for the passage of two bills in Congress. One would lift travel restrictions and the other would allow Cuba to pay for goods with credit, Williams said. Both will be voted on before a July recess.

A lifting of the credit restrictions, Williams said, would make it much easier to do business with Cuba. For instance, Cuba gets its rice from Vietnam because it can offer credit to the country.

Williams said it would be much more economical for Cuba to get rice from the nearby U.S, adding that Alabama would benefit through an increase in goods related to agriculture and manufacturing.

“There are opportunities for chickens, eggs ,,, and a need for everything from Alabama,” Williams said. “You see the need …. You see the opportunities here.”

Currently, Williams said, Cuba is the only nation in the world where Americans are banned from traveling, but an affirmative vote in Congress could end that.

Members of the state legislative delegation, including Mobile Sen. Vivian Figures were on-hand as well to push for the lifting of the embargo. The legislature recently sent a unanimous resolution to Washington calling for an end to the embargo.

“This is a bipartisan effort,” Figures said. “It is time with lift the embargo and other trade barriers. We need to expand our global marketplace.”

The founding members of the State Council include Alabama leaders from a broad range of sectors including agriculture, business, technology, manufacturing, education, energy and government.

The Council seeks to expand trade with Cuba in order to provide economic opportunities for Alabamians and empower the Cuban people, a statement from Engage Cuba read.