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Akin Gump, nation’s largest lobbying firm, to launch new Cuba practice

Akin Gump, nation’s largest lobbying firm, to launch new Cuba practice
By Catherine Ho September 2 at 4:36 PM

Akin Gump, the nation’s largest lobby firm, is launching a new business
unit aimed at advising firms looking to expand in Cuba.

The move is the latest effort by the international business community to
increase its operations and consumer base on the island in the
telecommunications, hospitality, agriculture, healthcare and other sectors.

Since President Obama’s December announcement that the U.S. would
restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, advocacy and business groups
lobbying for normalization have stepped into high gear, urging Congress
to loosen restrictions on travel, agricultural sales, the export of
telecommunications devices, and rules for ships traveling between the
two countries.

President Obama, right, smiles as he looks over towards Cuban President
Raul Castro, left, during their meeting at the Summit of the Americas in
Panama City, Panama.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
[Obama moves to normalize relations with Cuba as American is released by
Havana]

Akin’s new group will advise companies on legal and lobbying strategy as
they look to enter the Cuban market.

Akin Gump is the nation’s largest lobby firm by revenue, earning $35.6
million in lobbying fees in 2014. The law and lobby giant recently hired
Anya Landau French as a senior adviser in the Cuba initiative, which
will be led by Democratic lobbyist Scott Parven.

Parven lobbies on behalf of Samsung and Chevron, and is a bundler for
Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, raising $24,700 for Clinton in 2015.
Landau French is the editor of The Havana Note, a blog documenting
developments in U.S.-Cuba relations that often praises ending the
embargo, and a former adviser on international trade issues to ex-Sen.
Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

“Given the president’s bold actions on Cuba, we’re hearing a lot of
excitement at the CEO and [general counsel] level from our clients,”
Parven said. “They are very excited and progressive about this, seeing
it as a tremendous business opportunity. They’re seeing the long
game. Companies want to make sure they’re doing everything right
to enter the market the right way and establishing the right reputation.”

Many industry groups and corporations have long privately supported
lifting the 50-year embargo with Cuba, and the administration’s formal
push was followed by a flurry of renewed lobbying efforts.

But those sanctions would have to be lifted by Congress, where many
Republicans vehemently oppose normalization with Cuba. Senate
appropriators have approved measures to roll back some of the sanctions,
but they’re not expected to pass both chambers. That makes it unlikely
that any major sanctions relief will occur in the immediate future.

Some ad-hoc language has made its way through committee, however.

The House Appropriations Committee has approved a provision in the
Transportation, Housing and Urban Development spending bill that would
block new U.S. airlines and cruise ships from traveling to the island,
and an amendment to the Commerce, Justice and Science spending bill that
would prohibit exports to entities owned by the Cuban military.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved amendments to the 2016
spending bill that would lift the travel ban for one year, end the
current 180-day waiting period for ships carrying food and medicine from
the U.S. to Cuba, and allow Cuba to buy U.S. agriculture on credit
instead of cash-in-advance.

The Engage Cuba lobbying coalition, which was formed in June to advocate
for normalization, is gearing up to target a handful of states this fall
— Iowa, Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas, all major exporters of
agriculture. The coalition intends to meet with industry and civic
leaders, seeking help in pressuring their lawmakers on lifting Cuba
sanctions. The group sees Iowa as especially important because of the
state’s critical role in the 2016 presidential election.

“We’re hoping we can start making inroads in the House over next couple
months,” said James Williams, who leads Engage Cuba. “We’re hoping a
deal can be struck to keep some of [the Senate amendments] in, but we
know its going to be an uphill road.”

Mauricio Claver-Carone, head of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC — which
opposes lifting sanctions unless the Cuban government
undergoes democratic reforms — said the lobbying push to ease sanctions
is trying to capitalize on “the perceived momentum the administration
has created.”

“We are opposed to those efforts,” Calver-Carone said. “The fact is that
the Speaker of the House has already said it’s not going to happen. The
other side can push all they want, but they need floor time. Without the
House, nothing is going to happen. They can huff and puff and play off
what they perceive as momentum, but the fact remains in Congress, none
of those efforts are going to gain traction.”

Catherine Ho covers lobbying at The Washington Post. She previously
worked at the LA Daily Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free
Press, the Wichita Eagle and the San Mateo County Times.

Source: Akin Gump, nation’s largest lobbying firm, to launch new Cuba
practice – The Washington Post –
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2015/09/02/akin-gump-nations-largest-lobbying-firm-to-launch-new-cuba-practice/

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