Florida companies push to expand trade with Cuba
By Agustina Guerrero
Tampa Bay Business Journal
Updated: 8:00 p.m. ET April 9, 2006
TAMPA — With Fidel Castro still entrenched as the president of Cuba,
Florida companies salivating for a chance to do business there have had
a long wait to implement plans for a “what if” scenario, should the
But while the issue of planning for free trade with Cuba has been South
Florida-focused, there is movement on a statewide level to increase
business despite long-standing embargoes on trade.
The U.S.-Cuba Trade Association, a nonprofit organization based in
Washington, D.C., will host a statewide seminar April 13 for Florida
companies interested in starting or increasing trade with Cuba. The
Orlando seminar is the first step in creating a Florida chapter of the
organization and is drawing real interest from Tampa Bay companies.
A starting point
Trade at this point is small, said Arthur R. Savage, president and CEO
of A.R. Savage & Son Inc. in Tampa and one of the founding members of
the USCTA’s Florida chapter. It has resulted only in a few animal feed
supplement shipments, phosphate-based products and refrigerated cargo
going to Cuba from Tampa Bay.
“The U.S.-Cuba Trade Association is there to help people navigate that
minefield so they can be successful,” said Savage. “The only thing that
is hampering business right now is the U.S. government. That’s not the
way it’s supposed to be. We have products to sell, and they have needs
and vice versa. The only thing standing in the way, are our governments.”
A.R. Savage & Son’s experience in Cuba has been good so far. “We have
found them to be wonderful people to work with,” Savage said.
Sharing the vision
Other companies that have local operations and that have done business
in Cuba include Florida Produce of Hillsborough County Inc. and The
Mosaic Co. (NYSE: MOS).
Initial organizing members of the USCTA’s Florida chapter include A.R.
Savage & Son Inc., Buffalo International, Caterpillar Americas, Duane
Morris LLP, North American Partners, Tucker/Hall and United Americas
“Florida stands to gain the most from open trade and business with
Cuba,” said Kirby Jones, president of the USCTA. “More companies have
visited Cuba from Florida than from any other state in the country.”
Tampa Bay in particular can gain a lot, said Albert A. Fox Jr.,
president of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation and a
democratic candidate running for Congress to represent the 11th
“The Port of Tampa is closer to Havana than the Port of Miami. Why not
take advantage of that?” Fox said. “Once it opens up, Tampa can be
A study conducted by Tim Lynch, director of the Center for Economic
Forecasting and Analysis at Florida State University, concluded that
lifting the embargo would result in a $5 billion to $13 billion annual
dynamic increase in U.S. GDP over 20 years, and $1.1 billion to $2.1
billion growth in Florida GDP over 35 years.
The Florida economy also would add 14,000 to 27,372 jobs over 35 years.
The embargo was implemented primarily through the Cuban Assets Control
Regulations, issued in 1963, and is currently administered by the U.S.
Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
“The real opportunity is in the future, when trade resumes
unrestricted,” Savage said.
The local ports are expected to benefit from that increase trade.
“Because of its proximity and growing inventory of modern inter-modal
facilities, Port Manatee is well positioned to benefit from existing and
future trade opportunities with Cuba,” said Steve Hollister,
communications manager for Port Manatee.
Port Manatee was the site for two shipments of animal feed supplement in
the fall 2003.
A beachhead of opposition
Not everyone is happy with the USCTA’s push for more trade.
“Instead of talking about how to benefit from the pain of the Cuban
people, they should be talking about how to support a transition to
democracy,” said Camila Ruiz-Gallardo, director of government relations
for the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation. “We can talk
about trade when Cuba becomes a democratic and open country. Today it is
a centralized economy where the Cuban does not take advantage. He is a
slave employee of the government. Under those circumstances we don’t
agree with continuing or increasing business with Cuba.”
But the trade group is indeed looking to the future and helping the
Cuban people when trade opens up, Savage said.
In October 2000, Congress passed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export
Enhancement Act, making it legal for U.S. companies to sell some
products to Cuba.
Since then, U.S. companies have conducted almost $2 billion worth of
trade with Cuba.
When asked how many licenses have been issued to Tampa Bay companies so
far, the Treasury Department said numbers were not readily available.
“The way our database is set up doesn’t allow us to sort by location,
per se,” said public affairs specialist Molly Millerwise.
“Unfortunately, it would require our folks going through tens of
thousands of licenses to sort out any possible Tampa Bay-specific ones,”
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