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Gov. Terry McAuliffe to travel to Cuba to promote Virginia trade

Gov. Terry McAuliffe to travel to Cuba to promote Virginia trade
By Laura Vozzella March 10 at 12:53 PM

RICHMOND — Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Tuesday that he will travel to
Cuba as part of a trade mission intended to build on partnerships forged
between the commonwealth and the island nation years before the recent
thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations.

McAuliffe (D) made the announcement as Cuba’s top diplomat in the United
States spoke at an agricultural trade conference at a Richmond hotel.

“I accept your offer,” McAuliffe told José R. Cabañas, chief of the
Cuban Interests Section, onstage at the event. “We will head to Cuba.”

Virginia has been trading with Cuba for more than a decade, after
restrictions were loosened to allow exports of agricultural and medical
products. Now the state is one of Cuba’s top three U.S. trading
partners, primarily through the sales of soybeans, apples, poultry and pork.

McAuliffe is hopeful that the state can build on those ties as relations
between the United States and Cuba are normalized. President Obama
announced plans in December to fund new diplomatic operations with Cuba
and ease restrictions on commerce and banking, although those plans
still face some opposition in Congress.

Cabañas told the audience that relations still have a long way to go.

“I am not yet the Cuban ambassador,” he said, playfully correcting
Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Secretary Todd Haymore, who had
introduced him that way as a show of respect. Until relations are fully
normalized, Cabañas noted, Cuba does not have an embassy of its own but
rather an interests section housed in the Swiss Embassy.

The past four Virginia governors have courted Cuba, starting with
now-Sen. Mark R. Warner (D). Warner sent his commerce and trade
secretary to the island in 2003, helping Virginia farmers sell about
$840,000 in apples and soybeans — the first exports from the state to
Cuba since President John F. Kennedy imposed a Cold War trade embargo in

Virginia officials have made annual trade missions to the island since
then, but no sitting Virginia governor has visited in that time. Warner
traveled as a senator in February.

Only two sitting U.S. governors have traveled to Cuba since the Cuban
revolution. George Ryan (R) of Illinois made what he described as a
humanitarian visit in 1999. And in 2002, Jesse Ventura (I) of Minnesota
led a trade mission to Havana with his state’s agricultural producers.

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) plans to travel there in April. No
date has been set for McAuliffe’s trip, which must be scheduled around
five other overseas and domestic trade missions planned for the year.
McAuliffe said he expects to best Cuomo, even if the New York governor
beats him to the island.

“I’m not in a race,” he told reporters. “I think if you talk to
Ambassador Cabañas in there, he will say that Virginia is light-years
away. New York now has to go down and spend time doing what we’ve been
doing for a long time.”

McAuliffe traveled to Cuba as a private citizen in April 2010, after
losing his first bid for governor and while preparing for his second.
For three days, he worked for free to promote Virginia wine and apples.

McAuliffe has made economic development the focus of his governorship,
and agriculture, already the state’s biggest industry, has played a
large role. He announced this week that the state’s agricultural exports
hit $3.35 billion in 2014, surpassing the record set in 2013 by more
than 14 percent. Virginia surpassed North Carolina last year to become
the second-largest agricultural exporter on the East Coast, behind only
Georgia. The bulk of Virginia’s agricultural exports went to China,
which spent $691 million on such exports last year.

Sales of Virginia products to Cuba peaked at about $66 million in 2012,
but they have dropped off more recently, a trend Haymore attributes to
credit and financing restrictions that put U.S. products at a
competitive disadvantage. Virginia’s agricultural exports to Cuba last
year fell to just under $25 million.

Cabañas traveled to Richmond in January at McAuliffe’s invitation,
extended before Obama announced his desire to normalize relations. At
that time, Cabañas and Virginia officials discussed potential trade of
other products, ranging from information technology to heavy equipment,
should Obama succeed in lifting the broader trade embargo. Loosening
banking restrictions could also boost sales of the agricultural products
that are already permitted but sometimes are out of reach because of
requirements that Cuba pay cash for U.S. products.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.

Source: Gov. Terry McAuliffe to travel to Cuba to promote Virginia trade
– The Washington Post –

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