Happy Days In Havana - Global Trade Magazine
  April 20th, 2015 | Written by

Happy Days In Havana

PORT OF NEW ORLEANS’ GARY LAGRANGE LOOKS BACK AND FORWARD TO NORMALIZED TRADE RELATIONS WITH CUBA

When President Obama announced in December a beginning to the end of the trade embargo with Cuba, a lot of people saw opportunity; Gary LaGrange eyed history. LaGrange, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans, knows that his city was the largest U.S. trading partner with Cuba before the embargo was instituted in 1962 and now, with the prospect of it ending, he’s looking forward to the past. “We were Cuba’s largest trading partner, so we would like the opportunity to reclaim that seat,” he says. In anticipation of that, LaGrange has taken part in what he calls “field trips” to Cuba over the past few years. On one such trip in 2005, Louisiana officials struck a $15-million boost to agricultural exports to the island and, today, Louisiana is the top state of origination for Cuban-bound exports. While that distinction—and the $15 million—is nothing to minimize, the fact is that it represents the minimal side of trade potential with a nation of more than 11 million people who’ve spent more than half a century going without. “When the embargo is lifted,” LaGrange says, “there isn’t a thing in the world that Cuba doesn’t need.” And as history and geography—the distance between New Orleans and Havana is less than 600 nautical miles—tell us, LaGrange’s port will be uniquely suited to satisfy those needs. “I’m so excited about what this will mean; new avenues, new hope for the future,” says LaGrange. “[When this happens] we’ll be singing, ‘Happy Days Are Here Again.’”

SAY WHAT?

SOUNDING OFF ON THE PARTIAL LIFTING OF THE CUBA TRADE EMBARGO

“This is not Dubai 93 miles south of Key West. There needs to be meaningful commercial and economical change in Cuba before anything that the president announced is going to be beneficial to U.S. exporters.” – John Kavulich, senior policy adviser to U.S.-
Cuba Trade and Economic Council (USA Today)

“Well, 65 percent of the economy is controlled by the military. So anyone looking to invest is going to have to deal with these people. To put it into context, they have only approved seven joint ventures in two years and in each case the government made sure it controls 51 percent of each venture.” – Andy Gomez, associate provost and senior fellow, University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (RussellBedford.com)

“I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a team [at Walmart headquarters] already working on a preliminary strategy. Walmart has learned the hard way about entrance into Latin America markets and it has vast institutional knowledge of how to cater to poor shoppers, balancing expectations and aspirations against dignity and respect. [Cuba] seems like a no-brainer to me.” – Ryan Mathews, CEO, Black Monk Consulting (TheCityWire.com)

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