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Caribbean News Desk radio programme for Thurs, Dec 18, 2014

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 December 2014, 21:34 by GxMedia

New U.S.-Cuba relationship could open Cuban markets to U.S. firms

Washington, Dec 18 (EFE).- The agreement between the United States and Cuba to resume diplomatic relations, which were broken off in 1961, could open the door to the Cuban market to U.S. firms, which currently are banned from doing business there.

Companies such as automobile manufacturer General Motors, agribusiness giant Cargill and the Ethan Allen Interiors furniture company have applauded the step taken by President Barack Obama on Wednesday to restore diplomatic ties with the communist island, the daily Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

Among the economic measures announced by the White House is the expansion of sales and exports to Cuba of certain U.S. goods and services with the aim of supporting the nascent Cuban private sector.

The United States will also raise the amount of money allowed to be sent from this country as remittances to Cuba from $500 to $2,000 per person every quarter.

U.S. institutions will be able to open accounts at Cuban banks to facilitate the processing of authorized financial transactions.

Also, travelers to Cuba will be able to import goods valued at up to $400, of which no more than $100 worth may consist of tobacco and alcohol products.

“Cuba needs everything we make in the United States,” said Bill Lane, the global government affairs chief for Caterpillar Inc., adding that the firm hopes to set up a dealership in Cuba to sell agricultural, construction and mining equipment.

“We’ve been calling for a new policy toward Cuba for 15 years,” he said.

However, U.S. companies have not promised, for now, to invest in the Caribbean nation, despite the opportunities available there in the agriculture, telecommunications, tourism and natural resources sectors.

The biggest obstacle to establishing full trade relations between the two countries continues to be the U.S. embargo that prevails against the island, a barrier that can only be lifted by Congress.

During the 1950s, bilateral commercial exchanges experienced a boom, but that trend came to an end the following decade when the embargo was imposed after Fidel Castro came to power.

Since then, U.S. firms have not had access to the 11 million Cuban consumers who live less than 200 km (125 mi.) from the coast of Florida.

Nevertheless, the Cuban economy remains firmly controlled by Havana, consumers have relatively low buying power and the market is dominated by multinationals from countries that did not break diplomatic relations with the Cuban regime.

Those factors could prove to be a barrier to the normalization of U.S.-Cuban trade and business ties, even if Congress were to decide to lift the embargo.

“The minute it’s available, we’ll be down there,” said Stephen Joyce, the CEO for Choice Hotels International Inc.

President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced that U.S. firms soon will no longer be at a disadvantage in Cuba, adding that an increase in trade is good for Americans and for Cubans alike, and he urged Congress to begin a “serious and honest” debate on lifting the embargo.

In any case, the process will take time, as the president noted, saying that he did not expect Cuban society to be transformed overnight by the resumption of diplomatic and trade ties with Washington. 



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