Southern Leaders Discuss the Importance of Cuba to South’s Economy as Another Congressional Showdown on Cuba Looms This Month
MOBILE, Ala., June 10 /PRNewswire/—Business leaders and current and former elected officials from throughout the South gathered at the Mobile Convention Center today to attend the 2005 National Summit on Cuba in Mobile, Alabama. The Summit focused primarily on the economic impact of the U.S.-Cuba estrangement on the American South.
Dr. Seemon Chang, Director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of South Alabama, who presented on the economic impact of U.S. policy toward Cuba on the American South said, “Southern states stand to gain the most if trade with Cuba were opened. We estimate the South would capture 60,000 new jobs if trade with Cuba resumed.”
Winthrop M. Hallett III, spokesperson for the Gulf Coast Regional Chamber Coalition, comprised of five chambers of Commerce: Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mobile-area and Pensacola said that “It is natural that Gulf Coast communities seek to access and pursue opportunities with a developing nation of 11 million people just off our shores. Before the embargo, trade and exchange with Cuba was an important part of our economy, and it could be again.”
Recent changes in regulations governing Cuba mandating a stricter interpretation of ‘cash in advance’ payments trade sparked discussion among the speakers. Michael Olivier, Secretary of Economic Development for Louisiana added, “Cuba was Louisiana’s largest trading partner until 1960. We are actively seeking to fulfill the $15 million commitment from ALIMPORT. The more stringent interpretation of the payment in advance mechanism certainly makes accomplishing that task much more challenging.” Olivier referred to the Bush Administration’s ‘cash in advance’ change to the regulations that had been guiding Cuba sales for the past three years, a change that Summit speakers said is already hurting their sales.”
“Our Cuba policy is deconstructive to our relationships throughout the hemisphere,” declared The Honorable William D. Rogers, former Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Vice Chair, Kissinger Associates.
In a welcoming letter to summit attendees, Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC) said, “The South Carolina Secretary of Commerce and I both recognize the important of building ties with Cuba, and there is a good deal of interest in pursuing commercial and cultural relationships with Cuba.”
“Current Cuba sales have resulted in a total impact of $300 million for the state of Alabama. U.S. poultry sales alone have jumped 330% due to current Cuba trade and 40% of the poultry industry is in our state.” said Ron Sparks, Alabama Secretary of Agriculture.
In his remarks, Tim Lynch, PhD, Director of the Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis at Florida State University predicted that, “Florida, the fourth largest state in the union (soon to be third) and closet to Cuba, could gain almost 30,000 jobs and increase state output by almost $2.3 billion in growing productivity over the next three decades if normalization of trade with Cuba were to begin this year according to current model estimates.”
Congressman Jeff Flake spoke about the showdown expected later in June when his legislation, that would lift the Administration’s funding to enforce the restrictions on US citizens ability to go to Cuba, will come up for a fight on the Treasury Appropriations bill. He said, “The House and Senate have both supported lifting travel restrictions to Cuba in the past, only to have the language struck in conference committee. I think there will be a greater possibility of actual passage this year.”
Other speakers included Alabama Secretary of Agriculture Ron Sparks; Louisiana Secretary of Economic Development Mike Olivier who had recently traveled to Cuba with Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco; U.S. Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and other local and U.S. elected officials, corporate representatives.
Sponsors included the City of Mobile, the Alabama State Port Authority, the Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce Coalition (which includes local chambers of commerce from Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Mississippi, Mobile and Pensacola), Thomspon CAT /Caterpillar Inc., Port of Corpus Christi, AlaCaribe Initiative, South Carolina-based Maybank Shipping, Tampa-based A.R. Savage, among others. The World Policy Institute at New School University in New York is the coordinating cosponsor of all National Summit on Cuba events. A full agenda for Mobile and the Summit archives can be viewed at http://www.nationalsummitoncuba.org
The Summit was attended by over 300 people. A second day of programming at historic Mobile’s historic Spring Hill College on Saturday, June 11 will explore the human dimensions of U.S. Cuba relations, starting with morning panels on religion in Cuba and how politics impacts the free exchange and expression of faith. Afternoon panels will present experts on the rich history of relations between the U.S. South and Cuba.
CONTACT: Lissa Weinmann
John Loggia (212) 229-5808 x 4268