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Entrepreneurs see more opportunity in Cuba under latest U.S. rules

Entrepreneurs see more opportunity in Cuba under latest U.S. rules
By Doreen Hemlock and Donna Gehrke-White
Sun Sentinel

Entrepreneurs see more opportunity in Cuba as U.S. eases rules
New U.S. rules make it easier to charter a yacht to visit Cuba
Entrepreneurs looking to develop business with Cuba are cheering new
U.S. rules that took effect Monday and further ease U.S. travel, trade
and financial activities with the island.

Paul Madden of North Palm Beach sees the new rules boosting the number
of yacht charters he’ll arrange to Cuba, thanks to a streamlining of
paperwork for U.S. travelers.

Melissa Marchand expects to sell more of her company’s business guides
to Cuba, now that new rules expand opportunities for U.S. telecom and
import-export on the island of 11 million residents.

And farming advocate Dee Cross, who has an account with Stonegate Bank
of Pompano Beach, sees his nonprofit taking off, now that U.S. ventures
can lease equipment to private farmers in Cuba.

“I’ve been waiting” for more U.S. trade restrictions to lift, said
Cross, founder of Cuba/U.S. Agriculture Co-op, which aims to boost
Cuba’s agriculture. “The Cuban people have suffered far too long.”

The Obama administration liberalized the rules to spur U.S. business
with Cuba and empower the Cuban people, part of new U.S. policy
announced Dec. 17 to engage with the communist-led island. While the
half-century-old U.S. embargo on Cuba remains in place and can be lifted
only by Congress, Obama’s measures increasingly chip away at those Cold
War restrictions.

For yacht-charter operator Madden, who runs Paul Madden Associates, the
changes mean new business.

Madden took his first charter to Cuba under the new U.S. policy in
August on a 78-foor yacht, carrying a marina developer, yacht owner and
other Americans to scout out the Cuban market. He’s got eight yachts
reserved for Cuba trips in December and foresees increased trips in 2016
under streamlined rules.

“There’s a huge amount of interest in Cuba,” which had been off-limits
for U.S. travelers on yacht charters, Madden said. He predicts hundreds
of yachts from Florida and across the Caribbean will charter for trips
to Cuba yearly, possibly as many as “go to the Bahamas now.”

Marchand, who leads Houston-based publishing company Global News
Matters, sees the latest rules expanding opportunities for U.S. telecom
and Internet companies to set up shop in Cuba and for authorized U.S.
travelers to set up bank accounts in Cuba. That should spur sales to
U.S. entrepreneurs of the 69-page Cuba Business Outlook 2016 just
produced by her company, which has an office in Dania Beach.

“One huge opportunity now is in shipping containers, which arrive in
Cuba full and leave empty,” Marchand said. She sees a chance to develop
exports from private businesses on the island.

Of course, new U.S. business opportunities depend on Cuban rules, too.

While Washington now allows U.S. companies in select industries to trade
directly with Cuba’s private businesses, Havana long has required trade
through a state agency. It’s not clear that Havana will allow Cuban
software engineers to export their apps to the U.S., as Washington now
permits.

Cross is waiting for Cuban approval to set up his Memphis-based
nonprofit on the island. The venture this summer started banking with
Stonegate, whichrecently became the first U.S. bank in half a century to
start correspondent banking with a Cuban bank.

U.S. business faces challenges, too, because new rules still do not
allow U.S. financing for U.S. sales to the island. That’s been a hurdle
for years to boost U.S. food sales to Cuba, allowed under a waiver to
the embargo. Cuba buys more from countries that offer credit and don’t
require payment on delivery.

Last year, the U.S. sold $291.2 million in food and agricultural
products to Cuba, down from $348.7 million in 2013 and down from a peak
of $710 million in 2008, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic
Council, a nonprofit group based in New York that tracks U.S. business
with the island.

dhemlock@sunsentinel.com, 305-810-5009, @dhemlock on Twitter

Source: Entrepreneurs see more opportunity in Cuba under latest U.S.
rules – Sun Sentinel –
http://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/tourism/fl-cuba-florida-business-20150921-story.html

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