Accessibility links

Tourism, Farm Groups See Bigger Business With Cuba

  • Jim Randle

President Barack Obama's decision to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba has drawn support from people who take tourists there and farmers who want to sell more food to the island nation.

The decades-old embargo on U.S. residents doing business in Cuba had already been eased to allow educational tour groups.

Jim Moses, who leads one such group, Road Scholar, said he thought demand for travel to Cuba "is going to skyrocket. And I say that because of the small number of programs we have been able to offer for the past eight years — we've been barely able to keep up with demand."

Farm groups say embargo exemptions have allowed them to export food and medicine for several years, but only $350 million out of Cuba's $2 billion worth of food imports come from the United States.

U.S. farmers say cutting financial regulations or ending the embargo altogether could boost their market share.

The American Farm Bureau Federation's David Salmonsen said the business case is strong.

"We have all the proximity advantage," he said. "Our major agricultural exports go through the port of New Orleans — that is less than a day’s sail away from Cuba. So we are the closest major food producer that Cuba has."

Simon Whistler, an analyst in Washington for Control Risks, a consulting firm the specializes in minimizing political, security and integrity risks, said the new, less restrictive rules don't amount to as much of a change as some headlines would suggest.

"The important thing to remember, this: From a business point of view — in the short term at least — it's more symbolic than a real game-changer."

The decision to ease restrictions on trade with Cuba has sparked anger and demonstrations in some Cuban-American neighborhoods in the United States. Cubans whose families fled the communist-led island nation say that it still has human rights problems, and that the trade embargo should stay in place until there is more personal freedom there.

It will be up to Congress to maintain or end the embargo.