RICHMOND - Governor Terry McAuliffe today announced that he will lead a historic marketing and collaboration mission mission to Cuba from January 3-6, 2016. The Governor will be accompanied by First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore, Secretary of Health and Human Resources William Hazel, Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson and representatives from Virginia Commonwealth University, the Port of Virginia, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Art.
The McAuliffe administration, working in collaboration with the Cuban Embassy and other officials in Havana, has arranged meetings with prospective customers and partners for ten Virginia companies and institutions participating in the mission. Company participants include representatives from Smithfield Foods, Perdue Agribusiness, T. Parker Host, Mountain Lumber Company, Virginia Natural Beef, Forever Oceans, and Onduline North America.
Speaking about the mission, Governor McAuliffe stated, “Virginia has been a leader in the development of relations with Cuba since federal law allowed for the export of foods and agricultural commodities to the country. As relations between our nations continue to normalize, this mission will further enhance Virginia’s position by expanding current agricultural export business, achieving new agricultural exports, and opening the doors to future collaboration into additional sectors that are key to our efforts to build a new Virginia economy.”
Since the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA) was passed, limited sales of food and agricultural products have been allowed to Cuba. Recently, the U.S. reestablished official diplomatic ties with Cuba. As bilateral relations continue to improve, Governor McAuliffe tasked Virginia state agencies to explore new commercial opportunities with Cuba, covering a variety of sectors in preparation for the embargo to be fully lifted.
“The Commonwealth’s work with Cuba and our agribusinesses and producers has led to approximately $400 million in agricultural exports to the country over the past decade, including approximately $25 million last year,” commented Secretary Haymore. “We’re very proud of that work and the relationships we’ve developed with Cuban officials here and in Washington, D.C. Like the Governor, I’m hopeful that Virginia agriculture and agribusiness will serve as a catalyst for more positive change and create new opportunities for other sectors of the Virginia economy, such as health care and technology, as the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba continues to evolve and improve.”
Since his election in November 2013, Governor McAuliffe has worked to expand Virginia’s relationship with Cuba. In January 2015, Cuba’s top diplomat in the U.S., then Chief of Mission, José R. Cabañas, was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade during a day-long visit to Richmond arranged by the McAuliffe administration; the visit was Cabañas’ first U.S. visit beyond Washington, D.C. During remarks following Cabañas’ speech at the conference, the Governor announced that he would conduct a trade mission to Havana in order to build on partnerships between the Commonwealth and Cuba. The two have met multiple times in preparation for the delegation’s January visit. Cabañas was named formally as Cuban Ambassador to the United States in September 2015.
During the mission, the Governor will meet with senior Cuban procurement executives and government representatives to bolster the export of Virginia agricultural goods and to promote closer ties in maritime transportation, higher education and the fine arts. In addition to one-on-one business meetings, the Governor will host a business reception with Virginia companies and Cuban officials at the residence of United States Ambassador Jeffery DeLaurentis in Havana, Cuba.
Although U.S. food and agriculture companies can legally export to Cuba under current sanctions, financing restrictions imposed by the embargo, which went into effect in 1962, still limit the ability of Virginia companies to competitively serve the Cuban market to the fullest extent possible. Travel restrictions also constrain Americans’ ability to freely travel to Cuba and business collaboration in certain sectors, such as tourism and basic infrastructure investment, remain illegal. There are currently several bills in Congress which would eliminate or further ease embargo restrictions against Cuba.
During the visit to Havana, Governor McAuliffe plans to reiterate his position that Congress should take action to address these impediments to business. Governor McAuliffe commented, “Ending the embargo will create jobs here at home. From rural Virginia to our world-class ports, lifting these arcane trade and travel restrictions will create new employment and economic opportunities for Virginia companies. It will also open new opportunities for Cuban products to be imported to the United States. If we can do business with other countries from around the world, we ought to be able to freely conduct business with a country that’s our next door neighbor”.
In October, 2015, Governor McAuliffe was joined by eight other governors in a bi-partisan letter to the leaders of Congress calling for an end to the remaining trade and travel restrictions. Governor McAuliffe reiterated that his administration will continue to press for changes to federal law which will allow for free and open bilateral trade and travel between the U.S. and Cuba.