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US-Cuba Trade Association established to fight embargo
CubaNews / May 2005

By Larry Luxner

Pledging to “protect current trade with Cuba, expand and increase the potential for future business” and work toward full normalization of bilateral trade relations, nearly 40 entities have established the US-Cuba Trade Association in Washington.

Formation of the USCTA — a nonprofit 501 (c)(6) corporation — comes only a few months after the resignation of John Kavulich as president of a rival group, the New York-based US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

The fate of that organization, which was founded in 1993, is unclear in the wake of Kavulich’s departure (see CubaNews, March 2005, page 3).

Charter members of the new USCTA include Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Caterpillar, Arthur Savage & Sons and other companies currently involved in exporting to Cuba.

The group also includes a number of state agencies and organizations like the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), Port of Galveston, USA Rice Federation, North Dakota Farm Bureau, Virginia Department of Agriculture and the Louisiana Department of Economic Development.

“We have formed this association because of the desire of our members not only to keep trade with Cuba running smoothly, but also to move forward to expand trade and travel opportunities with Cuba,” said the group’s president, Kirby Jones.

Jones told CubaNews that members will be invited to Havana at the end of June for meetings with government officials. Further down the road, they’ll also receive a weekly digest of news articles.

Corporate membership in USCTA is either $1,000 or $1,500 a year, depending on annual sales, while state government agencies can join for $750, other trade associations pay $500 and nonprofit groups pay $300.

That compares to annual dues of between $2,000 and $9,000 for the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which for years had offered its members a newsletter, Economic Eye on Cuba, that now appears to have folded.

Unlike Kavulich’s group, which never took a public position on the embargo and was careful to distance itself from the Cuban government, the USCTA makes no bones about its opposition to current U.S. policy.

In a press release, Jones said his association was formed in response to a ruling by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control that require U.S. firms to receive cash in advance from Cuba before shipping food to Cuba under the Trade Sanc-tions Reform and Export Enhancement Act.

“This action has already disrupted and directly hurt the smooth trade which in three years produced over $1.2 billion in sales by American firms,” said Jones, a Washington-based Cuba consultant who was recently profiled by CubaNews (see our December 2004 issue, page 8).

The new group’s board of directors is headed by Bill Reinsch, president of the NFTC as well as the USA*Engage coalition (see related story below). According to Reinsch,

“Cuba is the poster child for ineffective sanctions, and the embargo ought to be removed.”

The USCTA has thrown its support behind a Senate bill known as the Agricultural Export Facilitation Act of 2005, sponsored by Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), Max Baucus (D-MT) and 28 other co-sponsors. A similar bill in the House is being sponsored by Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS).

The USCTA’s board of advisors, chaired by former assistant secretary of state William D. Rogers, includes David Rockefeller; former U.S. trade representative Carla Hills; former secretary of defense Frank Carlucci; former CIA director James Schlesinger; A.W. Clausen, former CEO of BankAmerica and president of the World Bank; Silvia Wilhelm of the Miami-based Cuban-American Commission for Family Rights; Dr. Julius Richmond, former U.S. surgeon-general, and 20 other prominent Americans “who reflect the broad national support among different sectors for normalized trade with Cuba.”

In explaining his decision to join the USCTA board, Carlucci said he believes that “normalizing commercial relations with Cuba is in our own national interest and would likely bring better results than the 45-year-old unilateral embargo.”

Added Rogers: “We have seen the positive results of engagement with China and Vietnam. It is essential that the U.S. take the lead now in expanding relations with our strategically important neighbor, Cuba.

“This association is an important step toward building more robust private-sector commercial ties with the Cubans — a vital precondition to a more normal relationship between our country and theirs.”

Jones said the USCTA will establish a national database of companies interested in trade with Cuba, set up an e-mail alert system to mobilize support for Congressional initiatives, provide members with a monthly newsletter and organize seminars and conferences to educate the U.S. business community about doing business with Cuba.

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