Mississippi businesses are exploring ways to establish relationships in Cuba.
Toward that goal, nearly 150 Mississippi business leaders gathered in downtown Jackson Thursday for a Doing Business in Cuba Summit hosted by the Mississippi Development Authority.
“As regulations change across the board, they’re seeing this as a potential opportunity to increase their exports,” said Jeff Rent, MDA communications director, “and increased exports means that we’re making our economy stronger, we’re selling more goods and we have a market that is out there and if people in that market want Mississippi-made products then it’s really beneficial for the entire economy.”
There’s a lot of opportunity because Cuba imports so much, Rent emphasized.
“Mississippi is an agriculture state, we’re a manufacturing state. Health care, technology, communications, agriculture — especially poultry and rice — are all sectors that are really important to the people of Cuba, and it’s perfect for the business people of Mississippi to try to establish those relationships.”
In February, MDA is taking Mississippians on a business development mission to Cuba to help “establish those export relationships,” Rent said.
“They’re going to meet with a lot of companies, they’re going to be seeing all the capabilities that are available in Cuba and really, most importantly, they’re going to be seeing what the Cubans need.”
One of Thursday’s speakers, Saul R. Newsome, a Louisiana-based attorney with expertise in international trade, said Cuba has changed drastically and, as a result, the needs of the Cuban people have changed.
“If you were to walk through some of the streets of Old Havana and see them 15 years ago compared to where they’re at now, you can see that the country is investing in itself,” said Newsome. “It’s developing, it’s advancing and it’s exciting to see that and it’s exciting to be a part of that and help encourage growth and economic development.”
Newsome said many of the regulations in Cuba will naturally require a learning curve for Mississippi businesses.
“Most of this is new for everyone so spending that time and dedicating to thinking creatively on how to accomplish your ends in Cuba is going to be critical,” he said. “Experience and relationships are key so having those relationships in Cuba, traveling there frequently, really provides an advantage to getting things done.”
Newsome said many have the impression that “the embargo has gone away and Cuba is open for business and you can do whatever you want” but that’s not the case.
“The embargo is still 100 percent fully enforced,” he said. “No laws have changed within the United States to change the embargo. What has happened is there has been a change in the supporting regulation and there has been a change in interpretation of that regulation.”
Rose Boxx, director of MDA’s International Trade Division, agreed that information and understanding of the trade regulations are key to successful business relationships in Cuba.
“Preparation is the main factor for us,” Boxx said. “Preparation and education is the first step for us to be able to implement any future trips or implement any kind of trade relations with Cuba from the state perspective. We’ve got to educate our communities and make sure we understand all the regulations and do everything properly.”
Sarah Fowler, The Clarion-Ledger
October 23, 2016