After 50 years of isolationist policy with a promising consumer market just off the Florida coast, the time has come for Congress to lift the travel and trade embargo with Cuba before Alabama businesses lose out to foreign competitors — or so says an op-ed piece circulated recently, written by Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, State Senators Vivian Davis Figures and Jabo Waggoner and Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan.
The article called attention to a bipartisan resolution, Senate Joint Resolution 43, recently passed by the Alabama Legislature that calls on Congress to end the trade and travel embargo.
Cuba is quickly becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, but the travel ban prohibits the Port of Mobile from seeing any significant growth in departures or arrivals of cruise ships to the neighboring country.
Besides travel, the op-ed piece also cited Cuba’s dependence on agricultural imports, which average $2 billion annually. That number is expected to grow given the rise in tourism and increasing purchasing power of 11 million Cubans.
Cuba’s needs mesh well with the very things Alabama has to offer, according to the four authors. The state’s top exports would thrive in Cuba’s growing markets, particularly Alabama’s top agriculture export, poultry. Agriculture is a major economic driver for the state, and poultry is a leading revenue source of this industry. In 2014, Alabama broiler meat exports reached $478 million.
Alabama has exported millions of dollars worth of chicken to Cuba since 2003, Alabama International Trade Center Director Brian Davis told Business Alabama in 2015. Chicken exports peaked at $42 million in 2012 and still ranked at $32 million in 2014.
Additional top exports, such as soybeans, wheat, feed and feed grains, would fuel Cuba’s agricultural imports as its livestock sector develops.
The op-ed piece also noted Cuba’s recent lifting of restrictions on automotive imports, creating a promising automotive market. Alabama’s number one export, automotive, could see a major boon from increased trade as Cuba looks to update automotive transportation on the island.
“In prolonging the embargo, the U.S. Congress prevents Alabama’s tourism, agriculture and automotive industries from growing, and allows foreign competitors to capitalize on these emerging opportunities, which leaves Alabama businesses stuck on the sidelines, ” the article noted. “We’re urging Congress to pass the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act and the Agricultural Export Expansion Act. It would, indeed, be a win-win-win for Alabama, the United States and Cuba.”
Text by Dave Helms