The following is a guest blog post:
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has made his intentions clear, he wants to continue and expand trade with Cuba.
Last October, the Governor visited Cuba to meet with officials and sign a ceremonial agreement with the Cuban government, declaring a mutual intention to deepen the trade relationship between Cuba and Louisiana. A ceremonial agreement that could be very beneficial to both parties, but unfortunately, it was just that, ceremonial. The US federal government has severely limited trade to Cuba ever since President Kennedy declared an embargo against the nation in 1962.
Cuban Trade Embargo
In 1962, the US government was struggling to deal with the communist government that had recently taken control of Cuba. Led by Fidel Castro, this communist government nationalized the economy of Cuba, and, in doing so, expropriated large amounts of land and other property from American businesses that were doing business there. Diplomatic efforts didn’t stop these expropriations, and so the US decided to cut political and economic ties with Cuba, treating them as an enemy state.
A History of Trade With Cuba
The trade embargo is very comprehensive, but it does allow some American exports to Cuba, a fact that has benefited the state of Louisiana. Before the embargo was declared in 1962, Louisiana exported more to Cuba than any other state, and this prominence continues today. In the last decade Louisiana has led all states in exports to Cuba, with a total of $1.4 billion, and potential exports are much higher if the US lifts the trade embargo.
Louisiana’s current export economy complements Cuba’s needs perfectly. Louisiana is a major exporter of agricultural goods, and Cuba imports 80% of its food supply. Furthermore, Louisiana’s biggest agricultural exports include rice, soy beans, and poultry, three of Cuba’s biggest agricultural imports. In fact, Cuba is the largest consumer of rice per capita in the Western Hemisphere. Louisiana’s close proximity also provides the state a big advantage, with Havana a mere 670 miles from New Orleans. It’s clear that Louisiana is ready in case major economic trade restrictions placed on Cuba are lifted. But will the US government really lift the trade embargo?
Current US-Cuba Relations
In 2014, President Barack Obama opened diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time since 1962, and many hoped that this signaled that the US would soon lift the trade embargo. It was in this climate that Governor traveled to Cuba last October. Unfortunately, the relationship between the US and Cuba has become much less certain under President Trump, and it remains to be seen if the two countries will continue down the path toward camaraderie paved by President Obama.
Initial statements by Trump haven’t been promising. In June of this year, he told a crowd in Miami he was immediately cancelling “the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.” However, despite such strong statements, Trump’s Cuba policy is remarkably similar to Obama’s, and he has indicated that he will continue to open up US-Cuba relations as long as a deal is reached that benefits both the US economy and the Cuban people.
Despite President Trump’s uncertain rhetoric toward Cuba, Louisiana will continue with business as usual, deepening its trade ties with Cuba. The state already benefits immensely from Cuban trade, and Governor Edwards knows his state will benefit even more when the embargo is finally lifted, however far away that might be.