The Mississippi ports signed cooperative agreements with the Cuban government in Havana earlier this week despite uncertainty surrounding U.S. relations with the Communist Caribbean island, according to a report from Reuters news service.
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A U.S. congressional delegation met with Cuban officials at a business and international trade forum in Havana earlier this week.
The United States Gulf Coast ports of Pascagoula and Gulfport, Miss. are enhancing ties with Cuba despite uncertainty surrounding U.S. relations with the Communist Caribbean island, according to a report from Reuters news service.
The Mississippi ports signed cooperative agreements with the Cuban government at a business and international trade forum in Havana earlier this week. The event was attended by a congressional delegation consisting of five senators, including Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and one House representative.
The forum was closed to members of the foreign press, but state-run media quoted Maria de la Luz B’Hamel, director of commercial policy with the United States at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, as saying, “There is great potential for business between these ports and Cuba due to the geographical proximity and the excellent fluvial and maritime ways Mississippi has.”
Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. in early 2015 moved to normalize relations with Cuba after more than 60 years of Cold War-era economic sanctions, but reinstating full trade between the two countries will require Congress to lift a longstanding embargo.
The U.S. government in March 2016 announced several regulatory changes to make it easier for Americans to travel to and engage in trade with Cuba following an agreement to establish embassies in their respective capitals in July 2015. Those changes came on the heels of an agreement to reestablish scheduled air service between the two nations with up to 110 non-stop flights on a daily basis.
Since the November election of President Donald Trump, who has previously threatened to turn back the progress made under Obama, international trade and political analysts are watching the new administration for clues as to how U.S.-Cuba relations will proceed.
Southeastern U.S. ports have been strong supporters of increased trade relations with Cuba, and Cuban officials have expressed an interest in making the Port of Mariel, located on the western outskirts of Havana, a transshipment hub for ocean carriers to feed the eastern coasts of North and South America with smaller vessels.
The Virginia Port Authority, the third leading exporter to Cuba among U.S. states, for example, signed a cooperative agreement with Mariel last January in an effort to become the preferred cargo gateway for Cuban companies engaged in import or export activity.
Port authorities in Louisiana and Alabama signed similar agreements last month, according to Reuters.
Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach, Fla., however, decided not to ink deals with the Cuban government after Florida Gov. Rick Scott threatened to withdraw state funding to ports that do business with Cuba.
In response to the ports’ plans to sign agreements with Cuba’s National Port Administration, Gov. Scott said on Twitter he was “disappointed some Florida ports would enter into any agreement with Cuban dictatorship.”
“We cannot condone Raul Castro’s oppressive behavior,” said Scott. “There are serious concerns about security and human rights. We cannot condone a brutal dictatorship in Cuba.”