Sunday, February 21, 2016

Businesses wait for their Cuba breakthrough

Businesses wait for their Cuba breakthrough
Sealing deals in Cuba has proven difficult for most American businesses
By Steven Mufson
The Washingon Post
POSTED: 02/21/2016 12:01:00 AM MST

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's planned trip to Cuba in March
might be a political breakthrough, but American business leaders are
still waiting for a breakthrough on the economic front.

Eager to invest in the island nation, representatives of more than 300
companies have visited since Obama pledged to normalize U.S. relations
with the island nation 14 months ago.

Some firms have made progress. Last September, Verizon became the first
U.S. company to offer roaming wireless cellphone service in Cuba. On
Tuesday, the United States and Cuba signed a deal that will open the
door to dozens of daily commercial flights between the countries for the
first time in more than five decades.

But in general, sealing deals in Cuba has proved difficult for American

Most U.S. trade and financial restrictions are still in place. Moreover,
the Cuban government has been bureaucratic, and its leaders seem to be
ambivalent about the wave of investment poised to crash onto its shores
— and how that might affect its tightly controlled political system there.

"They're wondering what the U.S. intentions are and whether U.S. policy
is designed to help the Cuban people or whether it is something more
like a Trojan horse," said Cuban-born Carlos M. Gutierrez, co-chairman
of the business consulting firm Albright Stonebridge Group, who served
as commerce secretary under President George W. Bush.

Now, U.S. companies are hoping that Obama can pry open the door a little
wider and help lift some of the restrictions that are still in place.

Obama doesn't need to make a direct appeal to Cuban leaders to ease the
path for American companies. His presence will be enough.

"The president is the chief marketing officer of the United States,"
said John S. Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic
Council. "If he gets nothing more than time in front of the Cuban
people, sample some food at a private restaurant, takes a walk, has
meetings and leaves, that's acceptable."

Kavulich said, however, that the administration is looking for deals or
preliminary agreements that can be announced while the president is there.

"It is working on behalf of U.S. companies to try to get some visible
projects announced," he said.

One of the companies knocking on Havana's door is Florida Produce of
Hillsborough County, which has proposed setting up a warehouse in Cuba
to sell U.S. agricultural products there. But the company has been stuck
in talks with the Cuban government, which wants to set up a joint venture.

Several major U.S. hotel chains have been trying to win contracts to
open up in Cuba, including Marriott, whose chief executive Arne Sorenson
wrote in July last year that his company was "ready to get started right

But a host of obstacles remain.

In Cuba, the government maintains a dual exchange rate, wants foreign
companies to hire employees through state-owned entities and limits
property ownership and Internet access.

Source: Businesses wait for their Cuba breakthrough - The Denver Post -

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