Hutchinson, Boozman Want Cuba Opened for U.S., Arkansas

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 106 views 

As U.S. relations with Cuba continue to thaw, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the private sector are hoping to gain traction with the island nation, which has been under trade embargo for 55 years.

Hutchinson went to Cuba in late September, leading a delegation of 19 Arkansas businesses representing 17 economic and agricultural sectors. Organized by World Trade Center Arkansas, the trip was in the making for about four years.

With Hutchinson present, the trip was upgraded to a trade and diplomatic mission, allowing the Arkansas representatives to meet directly with businesses and government officials, said Dan Hendrix, president and CEO of the trade center.

“In all international trade development it is vitally important to establish relationships and that takes place with personal visits which was one of the main reasons to travel to Cuba,” Hendrix said. “Also, it provided an opportunity to learn about the trade culture and posture as it now stands in addition to learning what products and services are in demand in Cuba.” 

Tim Graham, president of Hunt Ventures LLC, sits on the trade center’s advisory board. He went to Cuba to fact-find, and to explain to the Cubans how capitalism works.

“This is one of the first trade missions to Cuba and I feel it was helpful for them to understand what information U.S. companies need to invest in foreign countries,” Graham said.

As part of the trip, the delegation visited the new deep-water port at Mariel, which in time is expected to become one of the more competitive in the Caribbean region. Arkansas delegates also met with U.S. ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis.

Hutchinson followed up on his diplomatic trip with a November letter to Congressional leaders urging them to pass legislation easing Cuba trade restrictions. In Hutchinson’s estimation, trade with Cuba represents about $40 million in Arkansas exports.

Hutchinson’s Cuba trip came as U.S. Sen. John Boozman supports national legislation to open Cuba to domestic markets. He helped introduce the bipartisan Agricultural Export Expansion Act, which would lift the ban on private banks and companies from offering credit for agricultural exports, and the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which would loosen restrictions. Both bills are currently in committee.

An Arkansas delegation is expected to return to Cuba in April.