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  January 18th, 2016 | Written by

Virginia Governor Signs Collaboration Agreement Between Virginia, Cuba Ports

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  • MOU between Virginia and Cuba ports aims to developing links to support waterborne trade and investment.
  • Cuba’s $1 billion port project will make Mariel the largest port in the Caribbean.
  • In 2015, Cuba purchased $25 million in agricultural exports from Virginia.
  • Virginia companies exported $400 million in food and agricultural products to Cuba over the last decade.
  • Va. Governor McAuliffe: Ending embargo on Cuba will create new opportunities for Virginia companies.

During a marketing and collaboration mission to Cuba led by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, the Virginia Port Authority signed a memorandum of understanding with the Cuban National Port Authority to evaluate commercial opportunities between the Port of Virginia and Cuba’s newly opened Port of Mariel Special Development Project.

The MOU establishes a platform for cooperation and information sharing aimed at developing links between Cuba and Virginia to support waterborne trade and investment, improve customer service, enhance collaboration to achieve improved business practices, and increase the level of vessel services available between the two entities. Under this agreement, the two port authorities may undertake initiatives including data interchange, market studies, training and technological interchange.

“This agreement will enhance Virginia’s trading relationship with Cuba and supports our efforts to build the new Virginia economy,” said McAuliffe.  “Virginia enjoys a uniquely productive economic relationship with Cuba, and this MOU will generate additional opportunities for economic and cultural exchange.  As relations between our nations continue to normalize, this agreement will position Virginia as a leader in trade relations with Cuba now and in the future.”

Cuba’s $1 billion port project will make Mariel the largest port in the Caribbean, with a capacity to handle approximately 1.3 million shipping containers a year.  It will also allow Mariel to serve as a trans-shipment hub for the region.

“I believe Virginia’s continued engagement has once again yielded positive results in Cuba,” commented Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore.  “Last year, Cuba purchased $25 million in agricultural exports from Virginia, all in bulk shipments.  This agreement will help position Virginia to provide container service for agricultural products such as poultry, pork and apples, which are shipped in refrigerated containers.” Virginia companies exported $400 million in food and agricultural products to Cuba over the last decade.

“Despite Virginia’s export success to Cuba, there is currently no direct container service between Virginia and Cuba,” said Tom Capozzi, Chief Sales Officer of Virginia International Terminals, who served as a representative for the Virginia Port Authority during the visit.  “Our agribusiness companies that ship products in containers could benefit from enhanced cooperation between our port terminals and the Port of Mariel, especially as Mariel becomes an important trans-ship service provider for the region.”

The trade mission led by McAuliffe included meetings with prospective customers and partners for ten Virginia companies and institutions participating in the mission. Participants included representatives from Smithfield Foods, Perdue Agribusiness, T. Parker Host, Mountain Lumber Company, Virginia Natural Beef, Forever Oceans, and Onduline North America.

“Virginia has been a leader in the development of relations with Cuba since federal law allowed for the export of foods and agricultural commodities to the country,” said McAuliffe.  “As relations between our nations continue to normalize, this mission will further enhance Virginia’s position by expanding current agricultural export business, achieving new agricultural exports, and opening the doors to future collaboration into additional sectors that are key to our efforts to build a new Virginia economy.”

Since the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA) was passed, limited sales of food and agricultural products have been allowed to Cuba.  Recently, the U.S. reestablished official diplomatic ties with Cuba.  As bilateral relations continue to improve, Governor McAuliffe tasked Virginia state agencies to explore new commercial opportunities with Cuba, covering a variety of sectors in preparation for the embargo to be fully lifted.

During the mission, the Governor met with senior Cuban procurement executives and government representatives to bolster the export of Virginia agricultural goods and to promote closer ties in maritime transportation, higher education, and the fine arts.

In October, 2015, Governor McAuliffe was joined by eight other governors in a bipartisan letter to the leaders of Congress calling for an end to the remaining trade and travel restrictions. Governor McAuliffe reiterated that his administration will continue to press for changes to federal law which will allow for free and open bilateral trade and travel between the U.S. and Cuba.

Ending the embargo will create jobs here at home,” said McAuliffe. “From rural Virginia to our world-class ports, lifting these arcane trade and travel restrictions will create new employment and economic opportunities for Virginia companies. It will also open new opportunities for Cuban products to be imported to the United States.  If we can do business with other countries from around the world, we ought to be able to freely conduct business with a country that’s our next door neighbor.”