By: James Williams
Ending the travel and trade restrictions with Cuba would provide tremendous opportunities for U.S. businesses and economically empower the Cuban people. While the Obama administration has eased some restrictions on travel to and trade with Cuba, it’s time for Congress to lift the embargo, which harms American businesses and hinders economic opportunities for the Cuban people.
Engage Cuba, the leading coalition of businesses, trade organizations and civil society groups advocating for an end to the travel ban and trade embargo, co-published a “Heartland Survey” of voters’ opinions on U.S. policy toward Cuba. The poll, conducted by the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, revealed that the majority of voters in Iowa, Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana from both the Republican and Democratic parties support free trade and travel to Cuba.
Cuba is the only country in the world to which the U.S. government prohibits tourist travel. Until Congress lifts the travel ban, Americans will continue to be prohibited from enjoying what is quickly becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Congress should not be in the business of telling their own citizens where they can or cannot vacation.
As Cuba’s tourism industry continues to grow, Americans aren’t only missing out on travel. Cuba depends heavily on agricultural imports, which average $2 billion annually, representing a market where the U.S. used to be the No. 1 supplier, but has now dropped to No. 5.
There also is an immediate need for infrastructure improvements to meet the rising demand of foreign travelers. Two cornerstone sectors of the American economy — agriculture and manufacturing — are strongly positioned to address inefficiencies in Cuba and create jobs throughout the country.
The U.S. also is a world leader in clean energy technologies and production, including natural gas, wind power and biodiesel. Cuba has publicly declared its commitment to shift to renewable energy and is poised to reap the benefits of American energy exports. The Cuban government has expressed interest in building its renewable energy sector and set a goal of generating 24 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, including building 13 new wind facilities. As the Cuban energy sector begins to look outward toward international trade, there are ample opportunities for American energy companies to export the infrastructure, technology and expertise that are much needed in Cuba. In prolonging the embargo, the U.S. not only prevents renewable energy companies from capitalizing on this opportunity, but it also ironically benefits foreign competitors, which have expressed interest in supplying wind turbines to the island.
It is clear that the embargo continues to suppress economic growth in Cuba and infringe on the freedom of Americans to travel wherever they choose and conduct business in a promising new market 90 miles off our shores. For this reason, we’re urging Congress to pass the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, Agricultural Export Expansion Act, and the Cuba Trade Act.