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Louisiana explores ways to develop Cuban ties outside of trade

Louisiana explores ways to develop Cuban ties outside of trade
BY ELIZABETH CRISP | ECRISP@THEADVOCATE.COM MAR 12, 2017 – 8:30 PM

Louisiana could soon take more steps toward developing deeper relations
with Cuba, even though federal restrictions continue to hamper trade
efforts.

The Legislature last year directed the Louisiana Economic Development
agency to examine ways for Louisiana to foster a better relationship
with the Caribbean island nation amid increased efforts toward ending a
five-decade embargo on most dealings with the country.

The agency’s 12-page report that was recently turned over to lawmakers
stresses that the state’s trade options are currently limited.

“This could change significantly, however, with the lifting of the
embargo and a rapid influx of (foreign direct investment) into Cuba,” it
adds.

The future of the United States’ relationship with Cuba remains unclear
under Republican President Donald Trump. Trump has both threatened to
roll back efforts that his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, made
toward normalizing relations and signaled that he’s conducting a full
review of the U.S-Cuba ties.

Obama began restoring diplomatic ties to Cuba in 2015, loosening some
restrictions, including a ban on travel.

Ending the embargo that restricts most trade will take congressional
action, but after Obama’s administration signaled a shift, the
Legislature unanimously agreed that Louisiana should look for potential
advantages.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said he views Trump’s position as a
potential setback that could slow opportunities for Louisiana’s
agriculture industry.

“I still believe the overall trajectory remains positive, and we are
moving toward freer trade with Cuba,” Edwards said in an interview
Friday. “We’re going to do everything we can under the current constraints.”

Louisiana has led all states in exports to Cuba over the past decade,
totaling more than $1.4 billion since 2006.

“It’s a tiny fraction of what it would be with normalized relations,”
Edwards said of the state’s current trade. “They’re importing rice from
Vietnam that’s of lesser quality, and it takes 30 days to get there.”

He said he supports a suggestion in the LED report that the state look
for ways to strengthen ties to Cuba outside of trade. “There’s a lot we
can do to improve our relationship,” he said.

In October, Edwards and several other officials, including Mike Strain,
the commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry,
traveled to Cuba to meet with officials there. Strain also traveled to
Cuba in July.

The state spent about $150,000 on the five-day trade mission in October,
about $35,000 of which went toward Edwards’ state-mandated security detail.

While in Havana, Edwards signed a series of agreements with the Cuban
leaders to develop deeper partnerships. Those include agreements between
Cuba and ports in Lake Charles, New Orleans and LaPlace to share data,
market information, training, modernization strategies and other
information.

The state Department of Agriculture and Forestry and Cuba’s Agriculture
Business Group also will share information about irrigation, renewable
energy and other agribusiness issues.

The report says the governor’s trip “brought focus to understanding
what’s possible, what’s realistic and what’s unfeasible in terms of
Louisiana’s economic exchange opportunities with Cuba in the future.”

“Results will not be generated through overnight successes, but by
long-term relationships that have been newly established or renewed at
important levels of Cuban government and society,” it says. “These
relationships will be critically important if the U.S. embargo is lifted
by Congress, positioning Louisiana businesses for significantly
increased exports to a ‘new’ market that is hungry for their product.”

The report urges other state agencies and entities to look for
partnership opportunities similar to the ports and the state Department
of Agriculture and Forestry, but it cautions against wasting resources
on activities that could have limited benefit unless Congress acts.

U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, recently announced that he has
joined Congress’ bipartisan Cuba Working Group, which is pushing efforts
to build the U.S.-Cuba relationship. Higgins, whose district includes
rice-rich Acadiana, cited his support as part of the effort to grow the
nation’s economy.

“Americans have suffered through a stagnant economy for almost a decade.
Jobs have been scarce, particularly in southern Louisiana. I think it’s
time to start trading with Cuba, to bolster the economy in the 3rd
Congressional District,” Higgins said in a statement. “If there are
opportunities for our farmers to trade with Cuba, then that’s something
we’re definitely going to want to look at.”

Higgins’ spokesman didn’t respond to a request for additional details.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, is a vocal supporter of improved
U.S.-Cuba trade relations. Abraham traveled to Cuba last year to learn
more about opportunities.

A nationwide public opinion poll conducted by Pew in December found that
nearly 75 percent of respondents favored ending the U.S. trade embargo
against Cuba.

Source: Louisiana explores ways to develop Cuban ties outside of trade |
State Politics | theadvocate.com –
www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_f1a4ef1a-05d5-11e7-a65d-b39fb1e28493.html

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