HAVANA, CUBA (WAFB) - Cuban and Louisiana leaders meeting in Havana, signed an agreement aimed at tightening trade relations going forward.
The deals, signed today, are by no means official trade agreements, but Louisiana leaders say they are a step in the right direction. The United States embargo against Cuba prevents these trade agreements from becoming official
"We are eager to explore ways that we can both in the short term and long term, really develop our partnership," Gov. John Bel Edwards said before a joint meeting of Louisiana and Cuban officials along with businessmen and women.
The deals between the Port of South Louisiana, the Port of New Orleans, and the Cuban ports are largely symbolic and will be referred to as 'memorandums of understanding.' They are designed to increase communication and allow for the sharing of ideas going forward.
"We appreciate this visit as a positive sign of many of Americans to participate directly," said Maria de la Luz B'Hamel Ramirez through a translator. Ramirez serves as the director of the trade policy division with North America for the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment.
Louisiana leaders, including Commissioner of Agriculture Mike Strain, said they hope the deal will also give Louisiana a leg up if and when the embargo is lifted and trade with the island nation is expanded.
"We are perfectly poised to be the dominant player in these markets," Strain said.
Next year, Cuba is expected to import about $2 billion worth of agricultural products, including rice and soybeans, according to Strain. Those, of course, are items that Louisiana grows a lot of.
"In the United States, with our goods, within five years, if we can normalize trade relationships, we could have a billion dollars of that. We fully expect Louisiana to have a lion's share of that," Strain said.
In the short term, however, the embargo alone is not the only barrier.
"Current laws in the United States require them to pay in full at the time of delivery, that's not the way trade works, that's not the way international commerce works in the rest of the world," Edwards said.
Even with the embargo in place, Louisiana has been allowed limited trade with Cuba for items deemed necessary for humanitarian reasons. In fact, Louisiana has overall exported more to Cuba than any other state over the last decade.
However, trade has diminished in recent years as Cuba's economy struggled, cutting back on their ability to pay those fees up front. Looking around Havana, the poverty is hard to miss, sometimes just a block or so away from major tourists hubs.
Strain said because of all of this, the embargo should be lifted sooner rather than later.
"We have to renormalize these negotiations so we can trade just like with any other country," Strain said.
But any chance of that could still be a long way off. The U.S. Congress ultimately gets to decide about the future of the embargo.