Conference on future business with Cuba held in Tampa listen05/29/09 Arielle Stevenson
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The Tampa Bay Council on World Affairs and Commerce held a panel discussion this afternoon in at the University Club in Tampa. On the table, the implications of lifting the trade embargo with Cuba. The issue has been continually battled politically and economically. However the embargo has received additional attention recently because both Cuba and the U.S. have new heads of state.
Terry McCoy is director of the University of Florida’s Latin American Business Environment Program. He spoke about how the relationship between Cuba and the United States has changed since Obama entered office.
McCoy says that changes made to Cuban-U.S. relations thus far only reverse those restrictions added during George Bush's administration.
Paolo Spadoni is a post-doctoral research fellow at Tulane University who has spent a significant amount of time researching Cuba. Spandoni says that because Barack Obama has made statements previous to winning the election about lifting the embargo but did not sign any agreements, he is in a better position to make changes to current relations.
However Spadori says Cuba’s economy is in shambles right now, and while it may be lucrative for the U.S. to open trade for our interests, Cuba may have little to offer us in return. Nickel and sugar, two of their biggest industries are down due to global financial crisis. There has been raised interest in Cuba’s fuel opportunties, and talks between Cuba and Venezuela have begun on the industry of oil in Cuba.
Spadori says Obama’s decision to allow people to visit family in Cuba, and the continued open discussion on the topic have been proactive.
Port of Tampa Director Richard Wainio says there are great financial opportunities with opening trade to Cuba, and could bring money directly to Florida’s economoy. Currently, only 6 percent of the goods being shipped to Cuba are coming from Florida ports. Meanwhile Cuba is importing nearly 70 percent of its goods, which Wainio says we are missing out on due our lack of a trans-shipment cargo center, something he implemented while working Panama.
Wainio says these same principals could be applied to the Port of Tampa if the trade embargo with Cuba ends.
But as McCoy points out, the embargo is still very much in place.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday after meeting with the Organization of American States, that Cuba should not be readmitted to the organization until they make significant reforms in humans rights and politics. This comes after Obama’s announcement Friday that he wanted discussions on migration to resume with Cuba.