New Jersey Leaders Launch Engage Cuba State Council

TRENTON, NJ – Today, prominent leaders from across the state launched the bipartisan Engage Cuba New Jersey State Council. The council will build statewide support for pro-engagement policies and urge Congress to lift trade and travel restrictions on Cuba that disadvantage New Jerseyans and Cubans alike. Removing sanctions on Cuba could both expand opportunities for New Jersey businesses and empower the Cuban people.

New Jersey is the 19th state to join Engage Cuba, a D.C.-based advocacy organization dedicated to advancing federal legislation to lift the embargo on Cuba.

"Removing trade restrictions on Cuba could bring new opportunities to New Jersey’s top export industries while creating jobs across the state. At a time when New Jersey is facing a billion-dollar budget shortfall and certain industries fall victim to trade disputes, opening up new markets is the key to strengthening New Jersey's economy," said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba. "But in order to create that boost for New Jersey’s industries and improve the lives of the Cuban people, Congress must lift arbitrary trade and travel restrictions that prevent U.S. competition in Cuban markets.”

“I have long supported normalizing our relationship with Cuba, and I’m proud to help the Engage Cuba State Council in New Jersey promote diplomatic and commercial relations with the island,” said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen). “Many of us in New Jersey have close ties with the Cuban people, and we should foster that connection. Both countries have so much to offer each other. We cannot allow the economic and social isolation of the Cuban people to prevent us from continuing to advocate for our interests in Cuba—like the return of Joanne Chesimard.”

“As long as we maintain restrictions on trade with Cuba, we burden American business owners,” said New Jersey State Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth). “The business community in New Jersey should be free to meet demand in foreign markets and truly compete in the global marketplace. From biotechnology, to agriculture, to manufacturing, New Jersey products have the potential to change lives in Cuba and create jobs across our state. I’m proud to join the Engage Cuba New Jersey State Council to help give our businesses relief from these onerous sanctions.”

“For almost six decades, the U.S. has continued a failed trade embargo toward Cuba, and I’ve seen firsthand how it has barred the Cuban people from accessing vital American products,” said Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora. "While we should continue to put pressure on Cuba for its human rights abuses, we need to do so through diplomacy and commercial engagement, not isolation. The majority of Americans want to try a new approach. It’s time to acknowledge that we are stuck in a Cold War mindset.”

“Lifting restrictions on trade with Cuba has the potential to be a significant boon to New Jersey industries, helping businesses succeed across sectors and across the state,” said Anthony Russo, President of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey (CIANJ). “We need to give New Jersey business owners -- the backbone of our economy -- the freedom to thrive and bring free market principles to Cuba. It's wrong to burden New Jersey business with restrictions that none of their international competitors face."

“New Jersey has so much to gain from normalized trade with Cuba, while the status quo has failed to accomplish any of our objectives,” said Doug Palmer, Former President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Former Mayor of Trenton. “Our state is uniquely positioned to increase exports to Cuba across a variety of industries, ranging from biotech to agriculture. Since the U.S. expanded travel to Cuba, our communities and universities have been engaging in meaningful contact with our Cuban neighbors. It’s time to bring U.S. policy in line with what the American people want, and to try a new approach in improving conditions on the island.”

Home to about 100,000 Cuban Americans, New Jersey has long been a hub of U.S.-Cuba cultural exchange. Nearly 70% of New Jerseyans favor the U.S. engaging more directly with Cuba, according to a poll by the nonpartisan Atlantic Council. With the reestablishment of U.S.-Cuba relations in 2015 and subsequent policy changes that opened doors for U.S. business in Cuba, commercial flights resumed between the two nations. New Jerseyans now enjoy daily flights to Cuba from Newark.

With the country’s third-largest container port, New Jersey has a unique opportunity to export goods and services from a wide variety of industries to Cuba. Lifting the embargo would not only help New Jersey’s shipping industry, but many of its top manufacturing industries, like chemical products, machinery, and computers. Cuba imports almost none of these manufactured goods from the United States due to U.S. export restrictions. Last year, Cuba requested $6.5 billion in foreign investment for industrial machinery.

As a biotechnology hub, New Jersey is a natural partner for Cuba, which has the most advanced healthcare system in the developing world. One of the few categories currently exempt from the embargo is medical devices, and joint pharmaceutical ventures between the United States and Cuba are becoming increasingly common. The most notable example is Cuba’s CIMAvax-EGF lung cancer vaccine, which is now in the clinical trial stage in Buffalo, NY.

New Jersey is a top producer of corn and apples, but virtually none of the roughly $150 million Cuba spends on corn and apples each year goes to New Jersey producers due to restrictions that bar U.S. producers from extending credit to the island for food purchases. Cuba, which imports about $2 billion in agricultural goods each year, turns instead to countries like Canada, Brazil, and Vietnam that offer favorable credit terms.

In addition to New Jersey, Engage Cuba has launched state councils in 18 other states, including Arkansas, Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. More information on Engage Cuba State Councils is available here.

While Engage Cuba will continue to add members, the founding members of the Engage Cuba New Jersey State Council are listed below:

Shariq Ahmad, Edison Democrat Committee Chair, Town of Edison

Tom Arnone, Freeholder Director, Monmouth County

Jennifer Beck, Former State Senator, New Jersey State Senate

Helen Black, CubaOne Fellow, Montclair, NJ

Jerrell Blakley, Council Member, City of Trenton

John Burzichelli, Assemblyman, New Jersey General Assembly

Joe Danielsen, Assemblyman, New Jersey General Assembly

Serena DiMaso, Assemblywoman, New Jersey General Assembly

Roy Freiman, Assemblyman, New Jersey General Assembly

John Giotis, Board Member, Raritan Valley Community College Foundation

Reed Gusciora, Mayor, City of Trenton

John Harmon, CEO, New Jersey African American Chamber of Commerce

Gordon Johnson, Assemblyman, New Jersey General Assembly

Robert Karabinchak, Assemblyman, New Jersey General Assembly

Stephanie Macias-Arlington, Executive Director, Seton Hall University Joseph A. Unanue Latino Institute

Carol Murphy, Assemblywoman, New Jersey General Assembly

New Jersey Farm Bureau

Declan O'Scanlon, State Senator, New Jersey State Senate

Doug Palmer, Former President, U.S. Conference of Mayors; Former Mayor, City of Trenton

Anthony Perry, Mayor, Township of Middletown

Bob Prunetti, Former County Executive, County of Mercer

Daniel Reiman, Mayor, Borough of Carteret

Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Assemblywoman, New Jersey General Assembly

Anthony Russo, President, Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey

Bert Steinmann, Mayor, Township of Ewing

Anthony Verrelli, Assemblyman, New Jersey General Assembly

Meagan Warner, Board Member, Upper Hunterdon School District