Engage Cuba, Sen. Bennet, State Leaders Launch Colorado State Council

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Engage Cuba, a leading coalition of private companies and organizations working to lift the travel and trade embargo on Cuba, today joined state leaders to launch the bipartisan Engage Cuba Colorado State Council. U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), a co-sponsor of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba bill, attended the launch as well. The council members, comprised of business, manufacturing, health care, education and local government leaders from across Colorado, will build statewide support for Congressional action to end the travel and trade ban on Cuba. 

Demand for high-quality U.S. goods is expected to rise alongside Cuba's booming tourism industry, with record-breaking numbers of travelers visiting the island.The council seeks to lift the travel and trade ban in order to allow Colorado farmers and businesses to regain lost market share in Cuba and support the island's growing private sector.

"We’re very pleased to work with all of our Engage Cuba Colorado State Council members to lift the Cuba travel and trade ban that is costing Colorado jobs and preventing economic development for the Cuban people. It's time to end 55 years of failed, isolationist policies toward Cuba," said President of Engage Cuba, James Williams. "Colorado businesses are stuck on the sidelines as our foreign competitors continue to take advantage of Cuba's growing markets. Opening up trade with Cuba would provide tremendous opportunities for Colorado agriculture, manufacturing, technology, and renewable energy sectors and support Cuba's growing private sector."

“Colorado has a lot to gain from improving relations with Cuba, and we are grateful to have so many of our state’s business and community leaders join together to show their support,” said Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. “The launch of this state council unites an array of industries including agriculture, business, tourism, technology, and others with the shared goal of opening Cuba for trade and travel and strengthening the bonds between the people of our two countries. We look forward to working with the council to broaden Colorado's economic and cultural opportunities in Cuba.”

Sen. Bennet today announced he would sign onto the bipartisan Freedom to Export to Cuba Act. The bill would allow businesses to export to Cuba without a government license and allow direct shipping from U.S. to Cuban ports. The bill does not repeal human rights provisions or provisions relating to property claims against the Cuban government. 

As a top U.S. exporter of agriculture goods, Colorado farmers would benefit from expanded trade with Cuba. Cuba imports dairy, corn, and potatoes in high volumes, all of which are Colorado’s top agricultural exports. A recent report highlights that Colorado agribusiness will continue to lose market share in Cuba's growing markets to foreign competitors unless the U.S. changes its policy and allows American farmers to offer private credit for the export of agricultural commodities to Cuba.

Colorado’s capacity for trade with Cuba extends well beyond agriculture. The Cuban government has expressed interest in building its renewable energy sector and has set a goal of generating 24 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, including building 13 new wind facilities. Given Colorado’s sizable renewable energy and infrastructural engineering industries, the state is uniquely positioned to be an international leader in exporting energy infrastructure, technology and expertise to Cuba.

"The United States -- a mere 90 miles from Cuba -- holds a geographic advantage over all other countries; but the hassle of navigating U.S. financial restrictions makes it easier for Cuba to import agricultural products from countries on the other side of the world rather than right here in Colorado," said President of the Colorado Farm Bureau, Don Shawcroft. "Colorado farm exports to Cuba have considerable room for growth, if changes in U.S. policies open opportunities for agricultural trade with Cuba and allow U.S. exporters to provide technical assistance and to extend credit to Cuban purchasers."

“Western Union is extremely proud to be associated with the multiplier economic effect that comes with increased remittance flows into Cuba,” said Hikmet Ersek, President and CEO, Western Union. Western Union has moved money into Cuba from the U.S. for more than 16 years and recently became the first U.S. company with the scale to move money from other parts of the world into Cuba.

“Policy changes have benefited U.S. individuals as well as Cubans overseas looking to forge greater connections with the people of Cuba. With our global experience, we have witnessed first-hand how remittances create opportunity and drive economic progress," Ersek added.

"As the U.S.- Cuba trade embargo begins to lift and business opportunities open up, Colorado is poised to be a strong player due to its robust agricultural, high-tech, and medical device sectors and entrepreneurial spirit," said Karen Gerwitz, President of the World Trade Center Denver. "While other countries such as Canada, the EU and Cuba's Latin American neighbors have been actively selling into the Cuban market all along, the quality of U.S. made goods and services will be well received."

“The way to bring about meaningful change in Cuba is through engagement, not isolation. There are countless Cuban export opportunities for Colorado businesses across sectors,” said Maria Garcia Berry, CEO of CRL. “The problem is that U.S. law prevents these transactions and slows economic growth in the process. Our state is a major player in infrastructural engineering and renewable energy production, and these are projects that could greatly improve the lives of the Cuban people while creating jobs right here in Colorado.”