Boston – The reestablishment of diplomatic ties between U.S. and Cuba earlier this year has drawn a number of U.S. officials to the communist country in the Caribbean.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo headed over there in April, according to the nonprofit news service Stateline.org. The news service added, “Though states may be eager for the end of the embargo, it’s not clear when Washington will lift the 50-year-old policy and allow free trade between the two nations.”
Gov. Charlie Baker’s economic development chief, Jay Ash, told MassLive.com that the administration has assigned a “low-level” official within the Massachusetts Office of International Trade and Investment, an agency focused on international business development, to take a look.
The administration hasn’t made any trips, and the discussions have been limited to businesses in Massachusetts who may be interested in trade ties with Cuba.
“We have low-level people who are looking at what opportunities may exist but that has not been the focus of my attention,” Ash said. “I’ve been focused on emerging industries that have the potential of providing hundreds if not thousands of jobs right away, as opposed to something that may be much farther out into the future.”
Ash said he often hears from countries saying they could be great trade partners with Massachusetts. Next week, he is speaking with a delegation from Norway.
“Cuba right now doesn’t have a lot of high value, it has some value but not a lot of high value. What we’ve also said to certain businesses is – you know, people in the food industry for example – if you think there’s something there that we should be chasing after, let us know,” Ash said.
“So we’re allowing for our private sector people to understand, to tell us what they think their potential trade opportunities are, and then if there’s something real that comes out of that, then we’ll focus more attention on it,” he added.
Asked about whether the U.S. should be normalizing relations with Cuba, Ash said, “I have no opinion side of the diplomatic side of things, my job is the economic development side of things. If there’s a door open, we’ve assigned a low-level person to take a look at it. If there’s a door open, we’ll take a peek into it. In terms of the geopolitical stuff, that’s way beyond my pay grade.”
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said the return of U.S.-Cuba economic relations remain in the early stages and he expects a direct flight from Boston to Cuba to eventually come about.
“Certainly it’s something that we’ll explore, I have to talk to John Barros about it and see what’s going on,” Walsh said when asked about trade talks, referring to his economic development chief. “We do a fair amount of discussions on international relationships but we haven’t done anything with Cuba as of yet.”
One of Walsh’s political heroes, the late U.S. Rep. Joseph Moakley, D-South Boston, had pushed for an end to the trade embargo as well as condemned the country for human rights abuses.
U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, has been a longtime advocate for normalizing relations between the two countries, and visited Cuba with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry when the U.S. Embassy re-opened on the island nation in August.
“Together, we can create new opportunities for American businesses, increase travel and exchanges, and support efforts in Cuba to advance political and economic reforms and promote human rights,” McGovern said in a statement at the time.