Exploring Trade in Cuba

Exploring Trade in Cuba

This piece was originally published in the July 2017 issue of electroindustry.

Jonathan Stewart, Government Relations Manager, NEMA

In early May, a NEMA delegation of 13 member companies visited Havana for discussions with Cuban policymakers. Beginning in 2015, a series of executive orders issued under the Obama administration not only made the trade mission possible but also allowed companies in the United States to sell electrical products to Cuba if granted an export license.

Since trade sanctions effectively have prevented any U.S. commercial activity with the Caribbean island for 60 years, NEMA members wanted to understand how a trade relationship might work. The mission provided them with information to facilitate assessment about pursue export opportunities.

Cuba’s electrical sector represents great potential for U.S. exporters. Its electric grid is based on the North American system, and the country relies on an older version of the National Electrical Code® for installation of electrical products. Over the course of three days, the delegation met with personnel whose agencies impact the domestic electrical sector, including the Ministry of Energy and Mines, Ministry of Construction, Ministry of Industry, Ministry of Foreign Investment, and the Office of National Standards.

Members also toured a distribution substation, as well as the Mariel Port and Special Economic Development Zone. Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy, welcomed the delegation to his home for a political briefing.

Cuba boasts of a highly educated and trainable workforce—perhaps its greatest asset. Government officials at the highest level publicly recognize the need for economic reforms in areas where the socialist system has not worked. Most important, Cuba is hungry for U.S. products and tourists. Were the embargo to be lifted, the latter would go a long way in paying for the former.

Market irregularities, such as lengthy payment terms and closely controlled government contracts, would not disappear with the normalization of trade relations, which is by no means a foregone conclusion. While it is unknown what the United States–Cuba relationship might be in five or ten years, businesses need that time to learn more about the market and develop the relationships needed to engage there.

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