Sunday, September 20, 2009

Former US Ambassador Sees Movement to End Embargo

Ex-ambassador: Jacksonville should get ready for US-Cuban trade
Florida Times-Union - September 16

By David Bauerlein /, (904) 359-4581

Jacksonville should prepare for a future boom in trade between the United States and Cuba because "change is in the air" regarding the decades-old embargo that has stifled interaction between the countries, a former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia said Tuesday.

V. Manuel Rocha, who is senior adviser on international business at Foley & Lardner LLP, said it's not realistic to predict how many more years the embargo will remain in place.

But he said there are changes occurring in both the U.S. and Cuba that favor the U.S. eventually lifting the embargo that dates back to the 1950s.

"There is a set of forces moving in a direction that should give you a sense that something is going to happen," Rocha said in a speech at Foley & Lardner's office in Jacksonville.

Rocha said it wouldn't necessarily be better for U.S. businesses if Cuba were to change its communist government. He said the current leadership of Cuba wants to ensure a "successor" form of government so future leaders maintain a connection with the revolution that brought the Communist Party to power.

He said that scenario would be comparable to how the U.S. has dealt with Communist Party-led China and Vietnam, whose top trading partners are the U.S.

He said the other alternative for Cuba would entail a tumultuous "transition" from the Communist Party to another form of government. He compared that possibility to the turmoil that occurred after the break-up of the Soviet Union.

"There are more McDonald's in 'successor' China than in 'transition' Russia because of the stability" in China, he said.

Cuba's top trading partner for exports is China, accounting for about 28 percent of Cuban products shipped abroad, according to the Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook. Canada is second with about 25 percent of Cuba's exports followed by Spain at about 7 percent, Netherlands at 5 percent and Iran at 4 percent.

Cuba gets 32 percent of its imports from Venezuela, 11.8 percent from China, 10.6 percent from Spain, about 7 percent from Canada and 6.6 percent from the U.S. The imports from the U.S. are for certain goods exempted from the embargo.

Rocha said Jacksonville officials should be planning for more future trade with Cuba and identify what products the city wants to target for shipment through Jacksonville's port, and then make contact with those manufacturers. He said the cities that establish those relationships in advance will be able to capitalize on increased trade.

"You don't necessarily have to take big steps," he said.

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