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Posted November 06, 2009 by publisher in Cuba-US Trade

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The world recession has caused more intense screening of business executives seeking Cuban visas and has slowed down decision-making on new business projects on the communist island,a U.S. maritime executive said Thursday.

Speaking at the SeaCargo Americas conference in Miami, Jay Brickman, vice president of government services at Crowley Marine Services, said the worldwide slowdown has battered an already weak Cuban economy, with prices for nickel exports down by some 40 percent,a sharp decline in remittances from Cubans overseas and less spending by tourists visiting the island.

“The [economic] situation is causing indecision in a group used to central controls, and there is less initiative to make decisions,’’ said Brickman, who began visiting Cuba in 1978 and recently returned from a trip to the island. Crowley has regular shipments from Port Everglades to Havana.

“It’s easier to travel to Cuba from the U.S. point of view, but it’s more difficult from the Cuban point of view. To go there, businessmen need a business visa and that has to be given out by the Cuban government.’‘

The Cubans are asking why business executives want to come to their country now and didn’t before, he said. His advice: ``It’s best to be transparent with them.’‘

Speaking on the same panel, Pedro A. Freyre, chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Cuba Committee, an attorney and co-author of The Business Impact of a Post-Embargo Cuba, offered four basic tracks for Cuba in the coming years.

1. The Cuban economy continues to deteriorate as Raúl Castro succeeds his brother, the Cuban Communist Party stays in power and there are no significant economic or political changes. He likened this scenario to the last days of the gerontocracy in the Soviet Union.

2. A hybrid scenario where Fidel Castro “goes to the great party congress in the sky,’’ there are significant economic reforms but no political changes. “Then we will have a Vietnam [style economy] in the Americas,’’ Freyre said.

3. A transition scenario would come about if both Raúl and Fidel Castro die and a period of national reconciliation ensues. There could be meaningful economic and political reforms, settlement of property claims and election of a democratic government. “Then Home Depot would go to Cuba and sell a million gallons of paint in a week,’’ said Freyre.

4. Which Freyre said he hopes will not occur, there would be increasing social tensions leading to violent confrontations and political and social upheaval. Subsequently, Cubans would attempt a mass exodus to the United States.

During a morning session at the AirCargo Americas conference, which was held simultaneously, an executive of Cargolux Airlines, Europe’s largest all-cargo airline, said that the air cargo business worldwide was in the midst of a “crisis’’ with cargo volume down by about 20 percent this year, low freight rates and rising costs for fuel.

Sebastiaan Scholte, head of marketing and special projects at Cargolux, noted that airlines worldwide will likely lose about $11 billion this year.

Air cargo, he added, moves only about 2 percent of all cargo volume, but this cargo is worth more than 33 percent of the value of freight moved worldwide.

Brandon Fried, executive director of the Airforwarders Association, said that air cargo recently has seen an increase in business, making him optimistic about a recovery next year.

“We are a leading indicator,’’ said Fried. “When companies need something on their shelves right away, they use air cargo.’’ The three-day joint conferences and exhibition were organized by the World Trade Center Miami, the Port of Miami and the Miami International Airport. The event, held at the DoubleTree Miami Mart Hotel and Convention Center, is the largest hemispheric event dedicated to air and ocean trade.

Most content from BY JOSEPH A. MANN JR. | Miami Herald

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