By: Lawrence Specker
The Alabama State Port Authority has announced a new memorandum of understanding with the National Port Administration of Cuba, potentially laying the groundwork for future trade deals.
Alabama's Port Authority announced that state and Cuban officials met Thursday in Tampa, where they signed a Memorandum of Understanding described as the first Cuban ports agreement signed on U.S. soil since 1959. The five-year cooperative agreement is based on "a mutual interest in facilitating trade growth," according to the ASPA. The two agencies agreed to collaborate on "port and cargo marketing studies and strategies, engaging in promotion and exhibition activities, and sharing data to the mutual benefit of their respective seaports."
"We are seeing increasing demand for normalized trade between the United States and Cuba," said Jimmy Lyons, CEO of the Alabama port authority, "and it is our goal to foster relationships between the ports and their maritime communities to further changes in U.S. Cuban trade policy and facilitate improved ocean carriage services to the benefit of our shippers."
The possibility that trade relations between the United States and Cuba has been of keen interest in Alabama, which has historic shipping ties to the island nation. State and local authorities gathered in June for the launch of the Alabama State Council of the Engage Cuba Coalition.
Speaking at that occasion, Johnny Adams, executive director of the Alabama Poultry Association, who said Alabama already ships 10,000 tons of poultry per month to Cuba. That figure could rise dramatically, he said, if the current "cumbersome" limitations on the exchange were lifted.
"This is one of these issues that defies gravity, common sense, logic, emotion," said Williams. "We've been having a policy for 55 years that on all objective merits has failed to meet any of its intentions."
James Williams, the president of Engage Cuba said at the time that Alabama "is a state that probably has more to gain, more quickly, than any other place in the country" if longstanding trade barriers with Cuba are ended.