U.S. industry is not alone in advocating for broader commercial ties with Cuba. Officials of state and local government are also moving, within the limits of the existing embargo, toward establishing closer connections with the island.
During a visit to Cuba led by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe earlier this year, the Virginia Port Authority signed a memorandum of understanding with the Cuban National Port Authority to evaluate commercial opportunities between the Port of Virginia and Cuba’s Port of Mariel Special Development Project.
The MOU establishes an information sharing mechanism aimed at developing links between Cuba and Virginia to support waterborne trade and vessel services between the two. Under this agreement, the two port authorities may undertake initiatives including data interchange, market studies, training and technological interchange.
Cuba’s $1 billion port project will make Mariel the largest port in the Caribbean, with a capacity to handle 1.3 million TEU a year. It will also allow Mariel to serve as a transshipment hub for the region.
“I believe Virginia’s continued engagement will yield positive results in Cuba,” said Virginia’s Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore.
Last year, Cuba purchased $25 million in agricultural exports from Virginia, all in bulk shipments. “This agreement will help position Virginia to provide container service for agricultural products,” Haymore added.
Since the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA) was passed, limited sales of food and agricultural products have been allowed to Cuba. Virginia companies exported $400 million in food and agricultural products to Cuba over the last decade.
“Despite Virginia’s export success to Cuba, there is currently no direct container service between Virginia and Cuba,” said Tom Capozzi, Chief Sales Officer of Virginia International Terminals. “Our agribusiness companies that ship products in containers could benefit from enhanced cooperation between our port terminals and the Port of Mariel.”
The trade mission included meetings with prospective customers and partners for ten Virginia companies participating in the mission. Participants included representatives from Smithfield Foods, Perdue Agribusiness, T. Parker Host, Mountain Lumber Company, Virginia Natural Beef, Forever Oceans, and Onduline North America.
McAuliffe has been on record since at least October 2015 calling for an end to the remaining trade and travel restrictions with Cuba when he joined eight other governors in a bipartisan letter to that effect to congressional leaders.
In May, top officials of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) traveled on an official mission to Cuba. The delegation included the USCM president, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, vice presidents Mick Cornett, mayor of Oklahoma City, and Mitch Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans, and USCM CEO and executive director Tom Cochran.
The agenda included meetings in Havana with Cuban government officials and community leaders, as well as visits to some of Cuba’s political, economic, and cultural sites. These meetings and visits provided the U.S. mayors and Cuban officials the opportunity to share best practices for providing city services in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and transportation.
The trip marked the first official mission of the U.S. Conference of Mayors since 1978.