2016 has been an interesting year, with major movement for companies wishing to do business in Cuba. The course that President-elect Trump will take on U.S.-Cuba relations, however, is unclear. Although he has been an advocate for engagement with Cuba in the past, both on the campaign trail and in his business dealings, Trump has railed against any trade deals that he feels does not give the U.S. the greatest advantage. In the case of Cuba, he was particularly vocal on human rights issues, and campaigned against lifting the travel and trade embargo in Florida. Although this does not necessarily signal a definite claw back of the Obama Administration concessions, in the hunt for clear-cut policy wins those executive orders could be easily reversed and could score an early victory for the Trump Administration in the eyes of constituents wishing to see the embargo remain in place.
Another potential challenge could come from Congress, with Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz continuing their efforts to force a roll back of recent concessions. Both campaigned on keeping the embargo in place and will likely continue their hard line approach. However, recent comments by House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady’s on the possibility of resurrecting TPP and the Republican party’s pro-trade agenda lends hope to the idea of meaningful debate and the potential for positive legislative action.
From a practical perspective, president-elect Trump’s pro-business background is the best indicator of his agenda. The fact that there have been numerous state-led delegations to Cuba, many led by Republican governors, to explore trade opportunities may make it difficult to consider any claw backs that would hurt U.S. businesses and negatively impact jobs. Recent opportunities in Cuba include:
In addition to advocates on the Hill, the new Trump Administration would be lobbied heavily by the CEOs of these business and the (mostly) Republican governors of their corporate headquarters. The new administration would also be reluctant to walk away from agriculture deals that would boost the economies in southern states. The consideration of trade advocates such as Texan Sid Miller for cabinet positions, lends further credence to the idea of a pro-trade agenda for agriculture and other industries.
In the coming weeks, as President-elect Trump continues to round out his administration, it’s critical that cities, states, businesses and industry associations continue to fight for normalized trade relations with Cuba. At November’s Havana International Trade Fair, industries such as agriculture, energy, pharmaceuticals, transportation, healthcare and construction were highlighted, representing over $5 billion dollars in investment opportunities. Already, Russia, China, Dubai, France and Netherlands are capitalizing on this growing market. The U.S must continue to push forward to ensure that our industries are no longer impeded by barriers, and can compete in the race to modernize Cuba