News and Facts about Cuba

Cuba is opening slowly, but it has a long way to go

Cuba is opening slowly, but it has a long way to go
Reem Nasr | @reemanasr
CNBC.com

Five months ago, Jonathan Blue made the decision to add a special team
to his private firm, Blue Equity, in Louisville, Kentucky.
Three people would research the Cuban market, looking for opportunities
as relations ease between the two countries.

“We think that it’s inevitable that one day Cuba will open up for us,”
Blue said. “For us not to be prepared for a market of 12 million strong
less than 90 miles away would be a shame.”

“This is not Dubai just 90 miles south of the U.S., saying, ‘Please sell
us your products'”
-John Kavulich, , U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council
Blue isn’t the only American with an eye on Cuba—not by a long shot—but
many of those businesses won’t find the going as easy as they may like.

President Barack Obama’s decision last December to start a rapprochement
with Cuba sparked broad hopes for more open economic relations. Many
American companies are taking a hard look at the largest island in the
Caribbean, trying to gauge the business opportunities that could await
them. Last week’s move by the president to remove Cuba from a list of
state sponsors of terrorism is more confirmation that the island could
be open for business.

“We want to be proactive ahead of time,” Blue said. “We’re trying to
gauge what the needs could be.”
American multinationals have been looking at the Cuban market for the
last 20 years, said John Kavulich, the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade
and Economic Council, a non-profit organization that provides
information about Cuba to businesses. Kavulich said that by June of this
year, the “relationship between the two countries should be more normal
than it has been for the last 50-plus years.”

However, he argued that normalizing relations won’t mean easy business
for Americans.

“People forget it’s not only about what the U.S. does, it’s also about
what Cuba does,” he said. “Cuba can only buy what it can afford.”

The Cuban market is still a narrow one for U.S. companies trying to do
business, for reasons pertaining both to the law and its consumers. And
companies shouldn’t assume that Cuban consumers will rush to buy their
products, just because they are American brands.

“This is not Dubai just 90 miles south of the U.S., saying, ‘Please sell
us your products,’ ” Kavulich said.

‘They have Brazil and now’

There likely will be opportunities for mining, agribusiness and
in the event that sanctions are further lifted, said Kirby Jones, a
consultant on business in Cuba with Alamar Associates. But, he said,
Americans cannot rely only on brand power; they need to figure out how
the Cuban market works, what it needs, and who the competitors are.

“Cubans are patient. They’ve done without the U.S. for 50 years, and
they have Brazil and China now,” he said. “For example, cornflakes are
sold there, but it’s not Kellogg, it’s someone else who is cheaper.”
Read More Cuban-Americans support ending against Cuba
Jones advises industries to lobby the Obama administration for what is
called a general license, which would allow certain goods to be sold to
Cuba even without a complete end to the embargo by Congress. Such a
license is issued by the Commerce or Treasury departments and covers any
goods or services not allowed for export to a sanctioned country.

“If I were an association of manufacturers, for example, I wouldn’t
press Congress, because that would be a waste of time,” he said. “I
would press the administration for a general license saying that my
products are important to the Cuban people.”

‘Highly relationship-based’

American companies gearing up to do business in Cuba also will have to
familiarize themselves with the applicable American laws, said Jake
Colvin, vice president of global trade issues at the National Foreign
Trade Council.

“First they need to understand what U.S. law permits and not get wrong
footed by that,” he said. After more than 50 years of regulations, there
is a lot of fine print when it comes to Cuban trade.

The Cuban market has been considered forbidden fruit for American
corporations since 1962 when President John F. Kennedy officially broke
ties with the Communist state. However, in 2000, Congress passed the
Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSREEA) making it
possible for American companies to export and agricultural products
to Cuba on a cash basis. The Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 made it
possible for the sale of -care products. Now Obama has begun to
liberalize them more.

Colvin’s other piece of advice is to build relationships, because Cuba
is a long-term game. “The Cuban is highly relationship-based, so
you can’t expect to hop on a plane and sign a deal the next day,” he said.
Colvin said American companies are still in an enthusiastic phase and
haven’t yet transitioned to a serious, exploration phase. He anticipates
that it could be another year or two before U.S. firms really understand
the Cuban market.

“The reality is that the business that American companies want to do
will be tempered, at best, by the Cuban government’s willingness to do
global trade, plus the reality on the ground there,” he said.

Source: Cuba is opening slowly, but it has a long way to go –
http://www.cnbc.com/id/102597884

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