Viewpoint: What U.S.-Cuba relationship means for Georgia

Atlanta Business Chronicle

By: James Williams and Chris Clark

Lifting the embargo on Cuba would provide tremendous opportunities for Georgia businesses and enable economic mobility for the Cuban people. While the Cuban government should ease regulations to allow for the growth of private entrepreneurship in Cuba and increased investment from U.S. companies, it’s time for the U.S. Congress to allow trade and travel with Cuba. Opening up our geographic and commercial borders to an island neighbor will allow Georgia’s agricultural, tourism and manufacturing industries to flourish and provide Cuba with the necessary commodities to keep up with increased foreign travelers.

With less than a two-hour flight from Atlanta to Havana, Congress should not stand in the way of Georgians who wish to visit Cuba. While the Obama Administration has eased travel regulations, visiting Cuba for tourist purposes is still illegal. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport serves more than 260,000 people a day, consistently ranks as the busiest airport in the world, and has a direct impact on the entire state’s economy. Allowing commercial flights to Cuba would provide Georgians the opportunity to travel directly to Cuba and benefit Georgia’s overall economic prosperity.

Despite the existing U.S. travel ban, Cuba is quickly becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, however the country’s infrastructure desperately needs immediate improvement to meet the rising demand of foreign travelers. Georgia-based manufacturers should be allowed to work with Cuba to help supply the necessary upgrades and improvements.

Georgia’s number one industry is agriculture; prior to the trade embargo, Georgia had a flourishing relationship with Cuba through multiple state ports on the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. As a result of the current policies enacted by Congress in 2000, Georgia agribusiness has been at a disadvantage when it comes to the Cuban market, allowing foreign competitors like the European Union, Brazil, Argentina and Vietnam to encroach on Georgia’s agricultural market share in Cuba. While Georgia based companies and farmers are kept on the sidelines, our international competitors are taking full advantage of opportunities with little competition from Georgia businesses.

Cuba should be a key market for Georgia’s farms and agribusinesses. Cuba imports nearly 80 percent of its food and is home to more than 11 million potential customers for Georgia farmers. Georgia’s agribusiness accounts for $72 billion of the state’s economy. One in seven jobs in Georgia is supported by the agriculture industry or a related field.

Georgia is the number one exporter of U.S. poultry and Cuba consistently is a significant export market for U.S. poultry. Cuba's demand for poultry will only increase given the rise of tourism and the increasing purchasing power of 11 million Cubans. Georgia stands to gain from the increasing trend in Cuba’s poultry imports.

Additionally, it's not just Georgia’s agricultural products that are losing out. Even with the embargo, Georgia ports are a top source of permitted U.S. goods to Cuba. In fact, from 2013-2015, Georgia ports sent 80 percent of Cuba’s soybean, flour and oilseed imports. The Port of Savannah’s location makes Georgia a natural trade partner with Cuba.

Ending the embargo would allow those ports to trade even more with Cuba and increase business for Georgia’s industries. Allowing for more trade with Cuba will increase the volume of goods traveling through Georgia ports, which will directly impact Georgia workers and our state's economy.

While the Obama Administration has taken steps to ease sanctions, the embargo continues to infringe on the rights of Georgians and stifle economic prosperity and job creation in Cuba. For this reason, we’re urging Georgians to ask their representatives to pass the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act and the Agricultural Export Expansion Act.

These bills would allow Georgians to travel freely to Cuba and give Georgia’s companies the freedom to make their own business decisions—all of which will benefit everyone.

 

James Williams is president of Engage Cuba; Chris Clark is president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber