U.S. industry finds Cuba economy troubled, but resilient
A group of industry representatives who visited Cuba in mid-February found the communist country struggling economically, but still resilient under the U.S. trade embargo.
The information-gathering mission included representatives from the National Foreign Trade Council, USA*Engage, Food Products Association, U.S. Council for International Business, National Retail Federation, and Center for International Policy.
Cuba’s economy took a big hit in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed. While poverty is still a serious issue, the country has recently benefited from tourism and oil production initiatives.
“Overall, the economy is probably in better shape than it has been in years, and Cuba seems quite content to partner with friendly countries — particularly Venezuela,” said Daniel O’Flaherty, vice president of the National Foreign Trade Council. “What we saw is that Cuba is charging forward with plans for oil exploration and expanded tourism facilities with some degree of foreign participation — and without the U.S.”
U.S. farmers have enjoyed a robust trade in wheat, rice and chicken to Cuba during the past five years. However, the Bush administration’s efforts to make the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba more painful, such as requiring payments up front for U.S. agricultural commodity purchases, has the Caribbean country looking elsewhere, said Robert Muse, an attorney who participated in the U.S. mission to Cuba.
At a press conference in Washington Thursday, the U.S. mission’s participants agreed that Cuba at this time shows no signs of major regime change, even with the country’s long-time ruler Fidel Castro reportedly near death. Cuban government officials intend to maintain strict controls on business, and will likely keep protections for domestic industries such as coffee and juice manufacturing, O’Flaherty said.
“There are opportunities, but for U.S. companies to be able to take advantage of these opportunities the U.S. has to change its policy,” said Timothy Deal, senior vice president of the U.S. Council for International Business.