Tobacco, rum and other interests lobby on Cuba as restrictions ease
by Alex Glorioso on February 8, 2016
It may seem a country long in love with cigars has little need for
Swedish Snus dipping tobacco. But Swedish Match, by its own measure the
third-largest manufacturer of the tobacco pouches in the U.S., doesn’t
see it that way: Since 2011, the company has lobbied Congress more
heavily than any other on trade with Cuba.
Last week, the Department of Treasury announced it would further
ease certain trade and travel restrictions, removing financing
restrictions for authorized exports and granting export licenses for a
wider range of products.
Those licenses will be issued case-by-case for items that “meet the
needs of the Cuban people,” according to Treasury’s press release.
Education is a high priority, which is good news for the nine different
educational organizations have lobbied Congress on Cuba since 2011. They
include NAFSA: Association of International Educators, which has over
10,000 members from 3,500 institutions, according to its website. It has
spent almost $1 million dollars on federal lobbying since 2011, not all
of which was dedicated to Cuba issues.
None of these groups, however, has been as loud as those who make the
specialized chewing tobacco. Swedish Match has filed 54 different
reports mentioning Cuba via five different lobbyists since 2011, though
none of them indicated Treasury was a target of its efforts, only
Congress; a spokesman for Swedish Match told OpenSecrets Blog in an
email that the company is not looking for an export license to Cuba.
Still, in 2015, the company lobbied on four different bills that sought
to end the trade embargo with Cuba. None of those measures made it out
Bacardi, however, has mentioned Cuba on 47 of its lobbying reports since
2011, CRP data show — the highest number after Swedish Match; it
indicated lobbying Treasury on 18 of those reports.
Every year, Bacardi has danced between trying to end the embargo and
reclaiming its patent rights, which were effectively seized by the Cuban
government when it nationalized the company’s operations after Communist
revolutionaries seized power in 1959.
Other companies that may be looking to offer their wares for the benefit
of the Cuban people? Chevron, for one, and two conglomerates, Nestlè and
Colgate-Palmolive, which supply a bulk of life’s necessities from the
kitchen to the powder room.
Not all of the 115 groups lobbying on issues related to Cuba since 2011
are seeking licenses. Some of them are religious or human rights
organizations, for example, and don’t sell products. However, many of
the groups that have lobbied, including trade groups or umbrella
organizations representing a variety of smaller entities, are looking
for licenses and now it appears likely that dozens could be approved.
Clif Burns, an attorney specializing in export control and economic
sanctions, said that in his view, lobbying had little to do with
obtaining export licenses.
“I think there were a number of factors that led to the sectors
designated for liberalization of the embargo,” Burns told OpenSecrets
Blog in an email. “Chief among them was to build on existing exceptions
and to add new sectors based on considerations of fostering civil
rights, free flow of information, and private entrepreneurship.”
Whether that’s the case or not, lobbying on Cuba has ramped up. The U.S.
and Cuba moved to begin restoring ties at the end of 2014. The number of
lobbying reports mentioning Cuba correspondingly soared, from 74 in 2014
to 261 last year. And the number of lobbying firms working on
Cuba-related provisions has gone from 43 to 81 from 2011 to 2015.
There’s more to be done, especially in areas such as travel. Twelve
companies or trade groups representing cruise lines, hotels and other
tourism organizations have lobbied on Cuba since 2011, and there are
surely more to come. Direct tourism from the United States to Cuba is
not yet allowed but families, religious organizations, and researchers
from the United States are among the groups allowed to freely travel.
So will Cubans soon be taking swigs of Bacardi before fattening their
lower lips with pouches of snus? Hard to say, but there’s no shortage of
effort going into making it happen.
Source: Tobacco, rum and other interests lobby on Cuba as restrictions
ease | OpenSecrets Blog –