Analysis: Governor Cuomo’s Trade Mission to Cuba

Shortly after President Barack Obama announced plans to normalize relations with Cuba and to rescind the island nation’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to lead a New York State Trade Mission there. On Monday, Governor Cuomo became the first US governor to visit Cuba since President’s announced policy change.

In an effort to better understand Governor Cuomo’s trade mission to the Caribbean island nation of Cuba, The Bronx Chronicle interviewed Antonio C. Martinez II, Esq, director of the Cuba-Latin America trade group at Gotham Government Relations. Martinez and GGR will be working with businesses wanting to develop business opportunity in Cuba. He has more than 15 years of working on Cuba trade issues.

The Bronx Chronicle:  Accompanying Governor Cuomo to Cuba were Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie and Senate IDC leader Jeff Klein, both of the Bronx, as well Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and NY business leaders. Should others have been included?

Antonio Martinez II: “We congratulate Governor Cuomo for having the foresight to lead a trade mission to Cuba. [However,] It is peculiar to me that the Governor did not invite the legislator who has the most Cuba experience in the legislature, Assemblyman Jose Rivera, or other members of the Puerto Rican Hispanic Task Force.  Assemblyman Rivera’s resolution commending the Governor for his trip passed the Assembly and there is a pending resolution to ask the Governor to open the Ports of New York [Staten Island and Red Hook Marine Terminal in Brooklyn for shipping to Cuba]

TBC:  Governor Cuomo’s New York-Cuba Trade Mission touched down in Havana on Monday afternoon and returns to New York late on Tuesday afternoon. Is this a sufficient timeframe in which to foster an economic relationship with Cuban economic ministers?

Martinez:  “I believe the attendees will return on Tuesday with two comments; the trip was not long enough and they are planning to return to Cuba again to devote the time necessary to forge business and relationship ties. While 26 hours is not the optimal time frame to take full advantage of the opportunity of a trade mission to Cuba, the symbolism and what it portends for New York should not be minimized.

Cuba is a country which will carefully select who it will do business with, [so] relationship building is essential along with price and terms.  

TBC:  What are the challenges faced by NYS businesses in gaining an economic foothold in Cuba?

Martinez: “The challenge for New York products right now is going to be price and market niche in Cuba.  Cubans are tough negotiators on prices and anything purchased from New York has to be either flown or rail shipped to Florida for shipping from there.  These additional costs make our products less competitive with other states offering similar goods.  This is why one of the key followups will be whether the Port Authority of New York opens its ports to shipping authorized exports to Cuba.  Similarly there are two markets in Cuba, one for the hotel, restaurant, and tourism sectors, and the other, the Cuban people.  New York businesses will find their niches with the right guidance and visiting the island.”

TBC: What are Governor Cuomo’s immediate next steps?

Martinez: “Hopefully the Governor will return and formally call upon New York’s entire congressional delegation to support legislation in Congress to lift the embargo and travel restrictions to Cuba.  That would be significant as well and helpful to President Obama’s agenda to transform the U.S. Cuba relationship once and for all.”

TBC:  Is the US –and to a lesser degree NYS– late the party given that Canada, Mexico and the EU have long had commercial relations with Cuba?

Martinez: “Yes and no.  While Canada, Mexico and the EU have long had normal trade relations with Cuba, the United States has two important factors in its favor.  We’re only 90 miles away from the island.  And Cubans love Americans and American products.”

TBC:  Other than tourism, what other industries will benefit from new import/export opportunities with Cuba?

Martinez: “Lets be clear that there still is an embargo and Congress must act to lift the embargo.   The only U.S. goods/services currently authorized for export as exceptions are:

  • Food and agricultural products 
  • Telecommunications
  • Medicines and health care products

The only Cuban goods and services that can be imported under an exception (list provided by US State Department) are certain and specific ones provided by Cuban nationals who are privately self employed, ie. a Cuban who makes humidors and sells them, those humidors could be licensed for importation to the United States under current regulations.  So there is a small opening.”

TBC:  Finally, do you know if Governor Cuomo is bringing back a slugger for Los Yanquis? 

Martinez: “Sports is definitely an area where there will be great development in the future between the United States and Cuba.  As soon as it becomes possible, MLB, NBA, MLS are all going to expand their contacts and footholds in Cuba and with Cuban athletes.”

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