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Obama plan to end Cuba sanctions raises hopes, but most see long wait

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama's proposal to restore trade relations with Cuba has raised hopes among Gulf port shippers of new markets opening up close to home, but most expect a long wait before it happens.

Obama plan to end Cuba sanctions raises hopes, but most see long wait
24 February 2015 - 23:13
Obama plan to end Cuba sanctions raises hopes, but most see long wait

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama's proposal to restore trade relations with Cuba has raised hopes among Gulf port shippers of new markets opening up close to home, but most expect a long wait before it happens.

Cuba was the New Orleans' biggest trading partner before the Communists took over American assets. It was also an important market for other Gulf ports such as Mobile and Tampa before the 1961 trade embargo.

Except for a 2001 moment, when the door opened for US companies to export agricultural commodities for humanitarian reasons it has been off-limits for American traders, reported Newark's Journal of Commerce.

"It's a big step in the right direction," said James Lyons, CEO at the Alabama State Port Authority at Mobile, which is two and half days away from Havana by ship.

Port Tampa Bay sees itself as "a natural gateway to Cuba when ties are re-established, particularly in view of our historical ties and short transit time of 15 hours", said port CEO Paul Anderson.

Said New Orleans port CEO Gary LaGrange: "We're not dancing yet. Congress still has to remove the embargo, and I don't know the likelihood of that. But we see a lot of hope and possibility for the future, if and when the embargo is dropped."

Few expect a Republican Congress to act soon on a Democratic presidential initiative to drop the embargo. Even under liberalised rules US companies must be paid up front in cash, through third-party financial institutions. 

"That's been a big impediment," said business consultant William Gotimer Jr, former co-CEO of Trailer Bridge, which operates between the US mainland and Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. 

"Removing the restrictions on banking and mechanisms for payment will make it much easier to conduct trade."

President Obama followed up his December announcement of plans to end the embargo with a series of steps that included easing of restrictions to allow increased export of building materials and US telecommunications and other technological goods to Cuba.

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