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Pritzker: U.S. business can be at the forefront of change in Cuba
BY MIMI WHITEFIEL DMWHITEFIELD@MIAMIHERALD.COM
03/30/2015 4:28 PM 03/30/2015 4:29 PM

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said Monday that she is
planning a trip to Cuba as soon as diplomatic ties are renewed and that
trading with the island can involve the U.S. business community in
“positive change” in Cuba.

Pritzker gave the keynote address at a Cuba forum called “Tampa at the
Forefront of Historic Change” that was organized by the Greater Tampa
Chamber of Commerce and Tampa International .

“Our is showing a remarkable comeback,” she said. “Our
businesses are exporting more than ever before. But our work is not
complete.”

Even though U.S. exports reached a record $2.34 trillion in 2014,
supporting 11.7 million American jobs, the United States needs to expand
exports even more — including exports to Cuba, she said.

In the process, she said, U.S. business can empower the Cuban people and
help forge a better economic future. President Barack Obama’s new Cuba
policy, she said, “will allow the business community to be the face for
positive change in Cuba.”

There’s a big role for Commerce in the new policy too, she said in an
interview with the Miami Herald. “Our role is to facilitate trade,” she
said. “Our belief is the economic side of the relationship can be a leader.”

Pritzker said she plans to lead a delegation to Cuba soon after
diplomatic relations between the two countries have been renewed. There
have been three rounds of U.S.-Cuba normalization talks.

Despite the excitement by some U.S. companies that have already begun
exploring business opportunities in Cuba, Pritzker cautioned against
unrealistic expectations. “This is a long process,” she said. “It’s not
an overnight sensation.”

The Tampa Bay area has been trying to burnish its image as a gateway to
new business and trade opportunities opened up by the historic
rapprochement between the United States and Cuba announced Dec. 17.

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa/St. Petersburg, helped bring the secretary as
well as other officials from Commerce, the State Department and the
Office of Foreign Assets Control to the Tampa forum.

The audience in a full ballroom at the Marriott Tampa Airport
peppered the officials about how the new commercial opening will work.
It allows U.S. exporters to send American products to Cuba to support
private businesses and farmers as well as the importation into the
United States of some items produced by private entrepreneurs.

Currently the Cuban government controls all imports destined for the
island and there isn’t a mechanism for the export of privately produced
items.

However, Matthew Borman, Commerce’s deputy assistant secretary of the
Bureau of Industry and Security, said, “We recognize the current
structure is that of using government entities. If we took the position
that the Cuban government couldn’t touch anything, then nothing would
happen.”

He said under the new regulations, Alimport and other Cuban government
importing agencies may still facilitate imports from U.S. companies and
such products may go into government stores as long as the American
exporter does due diligence to see the products will be offered for sale
to the general public in Cuba.

The exporter must follow normal record-keeping requirements for any
export, he said.

If a U.S. exporter, for example, sends an auto repair kit to the island,
it will be necessary to show that ultimately it winds up in the hands of
a private individual, said Borman, one of the chief authors of the new
regulations.

However, as long as the auto repairman is self-employed, he may also use
those imported tools to work on government vehicles or to fulfill a
contract with the government, he said.

“We’re not looking to split hairs,” said Borman. But if U.S. exports are
intended solely for “Cuban government use, the answer is no.”

When it comes to exporting paint, cement and other building materials to
Cuba under the new rules, he said, such products may only go to a
private individual working on a private building. Even if a private
construction cooperative were contracted to work on a government
building, Borman said, the answer would be no.

Although there have been a number of business and legal panels and
seminars in Miami on new Cuba opportunities, South Florida politicians,
for the most part, oppose the opening or have tried to steer clear of
the topic.

In Tampa, which began offering its first direct charter flights to Cuba
in 2011, there’s been more of an embrace of the new Cuba policy.

“It’s not unanimous in the Cuban-American community, but I would say the
Tampa Bay community is overwhelmingly supportive of the new policy and
greater engagement,” Castor said in an interview with the Herald.

Castor, who visited Cuba in April 2013, said she’s currently trying to
arrange a congressional trip to the island. “I’m trying to recruit some
of my Republican colleagues,” she said.

But while Castor said she thinks and cultural exchanges between
the Tampa Bay area and Cuba will continue to grow, she thinks new trade
and business ties will come more slowly — mostly because the Cubans
aren’t yet prepared for the commercial opening outlined by the United
States in December.

“The capacity of the Cuban government to handle this all at one time is
an issue,” she said.

Source: Pritzker: U.S. business can be at the forefront of change in
Cuba | Miami Herald Miami Herald –
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article16932845.html

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