A year after Cuba trip, New York waits for returns
Despite rekindled ''friendship,'' returns unclear
By Matthew Hamilton Published 10:56 pm, Monday, April 25, 2016
After he became the first U.S. governor to set foot in Cuba since the
former Cold War foes began to normalize relations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo
said his mission was not about making new friends.
"We have had a friendship that went on for decades," Cuomo said last
April as he readied to board the plane home. "It is about rekindling a
A year later, measuring what the renewed friendship has meant for New
York requires several sets of measurements. Some point to a lack of
exports from New York companies that made the trip to the Caribbean as
proof of a small return on such a highly anticipated initial investment.
Others say one 24-hour trip isn't about bringing home spoils for New
York, but should be seen as the beginning of what needs to be a
To hear state officials tell it, the trip was exactly what it needed to be.
"We knew going in that Cuba did business in a very different way from
the United States," said Howard Zemsky, president and CEO of the Empire
State Development Corp. and an attendee of the Cuba trip, which
unceremoniously celebrated a one-year anniversary last week. "We also
knew going in that there is a trade embargo that is still in place. But
in fairness, if you wait until all of those things are removed and the
Cuban economy changes, then you will have waited too long because you
will have proven to be too risk-averse and you would have missed the
John Kavulich takes a different approach. The president of the U.S.-Cuba
Trade and Economic Council points to the data he has been able to cobble
together that show no exports from the New York companies Chobani,
Regeneron, Pfizer and Cayuga Milk Ingredients. An analysis released last
week showed that Infor, an information technology company, reported
three information technology agreements to sell health care-related
software to a Cuban company. MasterCard was waiting for legal
clarifications and operational changes from federal officials in both
countries, as JetBlue awaited a decision on new routes from the U.S.
Department of Transportation before they moved ahead with flights.
"What we attempted to do was not criticize the fact that the companies
have not achieved anything," Kavulich said of the report. "It's just to
recognize that they haven't achieved anything. The fact that nothing's
happened isn't the fault of Gov. Cuomo."
The administration has pointed to nominal benefits from the Cuba trip,
however. The Buffalo News reported in January that Cuomo's 2016-17 state
budget proposal was the first in years that did not cut aid to the
Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo. There seemed to be a
correlation, the News reported, between Roswell Park's CEO having taken
the trip with Cuomo and the staving off of further cuts. Roswell Park
signed an agreement on the trip with Cuba's Center for Molecular
Immunology to develop a lung cancer vaccine with clinical trials in the
SUNY also entered into a memorandum of understanding with the University
of Havana to, among other things, increase study-abroad opportunities.
While some companies have been able to export their products despite the
embargo on many goods that remains in place for both countries —
agricultural commodities, for example, have been eligible for export
since 2000 — there is a recognition that robust trade takes far more
than a year to foster.
"The Cubans are the ones that are deciding who they are going to be
doing business with, so the governor's trip can only go so far," said
Antonio C. Martinez II, a New York-based attorney and chief operating
officer of Cuban Strategic Partnerships Inc. "Doing business in Cuba is
all about the follow-through and requires a medium- to long-term basis."
ESDC said it has continued to meet and talk with Cuban officials
regularly. ESDC said the trip also generated activity for other New York
companies, though it declined to elaborate, citing the right to privacy
for those companies "not to conduct their business in public."
Cuomo and Zemsky met privately with Cuban President Raul Castro at the
United Nations last September.
Since last April, New York and New York-based companies haven't been
alone in seeking to enter the Cuban marketplace. The governors of
Arkansas, Texas and Virginia have embarked on trade missions of their
own. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's wife, Georganne, also visited the island
nation a month before the New York trip in January, according to the
Washington Post. "It's now incumbent upon us in America to make sure
we're opening that door wide enough." Gov. Terry McAuliffe said.
At least one elected official in Washington is looking to assist the
states: President Barack Obama made his own trip in March after a year
in which Cuba had been removed from the State Department's terrorism
list, embassies had reopened in the nations' capitals, and an agreement
was signed to allow commercial flights between the countries.
"Through the governor's office and representatives in Washington, they
have made the governor's position clear (that the embargo should be
lifted)," Zemsky said. "What the will of Congress is is not going to be
determined by New York state alone."
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