In a two-part series this week, we will be discussing the improving of relations between the U.S. and Cuba and what this could mean for the boating industry. Today, we cover the present state of affairs with Cuba and where the industry currently stands, and on Thursday, April 16, we will discuss what opportunities could be open to the industry in the future.
President Barack Obama announced in December that the United States would be establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Many industries have seen this improvement of relations as an opportunity to expand their businesses in the island nation.
However, it is important that businesses learn more about Cuba without rumor or hearsay, as much of the information the U.S. has known regarding Cuba over the past 50 or more years has not been perfect.
Henrik Hartvig-Laursen, president of Miami Nautique International, was among the dealers and manufacturers who attended a research trip in August 2014 to Cuba, hosted by the National Marine Manufacturers Association. His intention was to learn more about the culture and people of Cuba, as he plans to get his business’s products to Cuba as soon as legally possible.
“You could make a day trip from Florida in a 30-foot boat, and you’d have white sandy beaches, turquoise water, great culture, great food, great music, amazing diving. The place is a gold mine and it’s really going to take some serious business away from the other Caribbean islands once it opens,” said Laursen. “I see a huge potential of doing a lot of business there.”
However, businesses that are eager to build a presence in Cuba need to remember that a trade embargo is still in place and that while a short list of exports are now legal, none of them pertain to the marine industry.
Julie Balzano, export development director at the NMMA, said that any plans to expand opportunities for the boating industry are purely hypothetical until the trade embargo is lifted and it is unlikely to happen in the next year as it requires an act of Congress and the Helms-Burton Act, which governs the trade embargo, is an incredibly complex law.
“Even if we were to have full support of Congress in lifting the embargo, the sheer magnitude of having to go through each and every component of the Helms-Burton Act that would enable us to lift the trade embargo would take longer than a year,” said Balzano. “Theoretically, the trade embargo could be lifted, but that doesn’t mean establishing a private enterprise in Cuba will be allowed or supported by the Cuban government.”
Laursen suggests industry stakeholders contact their legislator and encourage them to push forward any legislation that would improve relations with Cuba, ease travel restrictions and work to lift the embargo.
“I think that the boating industry has an unlimited amount of opportunities if [travel and the embargo] open up, and in all branches of the boating industry they need to put as much pressure on as possible and get this opened as soon as possible. It’s going to benefit everybody in the industry,” said Laursen.
For companies that believe Cuba could provide opportunities for their businesses should the embargo be lifted, Balzano recommends educating themselves now about the island and its people, understanding the culture and the potential so that, when and if the time comes, marine businesses can react quickly because they’ve already done their due diligence and the initial research work needed to execute an effective strategy.
“That is the premise behind why we led our two research trips to Cuba: We wanted to provide our members who were interested with an opportunity to educate themselves on the potential to learn about the island, the people, to be able to assess the strategy that they might want to implement and really to develop all of that from a place of knowledge rather than hearsay,” said Balzano.