Interview with Felix Chevalier on the Recent Houston Trade Mission to Havana

felix-chevalier-jeffrey-delaurentis-havana-cubaFelix Chevalier with Jeffrey DeLaurentis, Obama's US Ambassador to Cuba in the Ambassador’s garden in Havana. Photo: Houston Trade Delegation.

We interviewed Felix Chevalier, a U.S. attorney of Houston, Texas, who has just returned from a three day trade mission lead by Houston’s Mayor Sylvester Turner, Jamey Rootes, Chairman of the Greater Houston Partnership and Bob Harvey, President of the Greater Houston Partnership.  We wanted to hear what Mr Chevalier had to say about the Houston trade mission so we asked him a couple of questions.

Cuba Business Report:  Do you feel the Houston trade delegation was a success? What did the trade delegation to Havana achieve?   Any signed deals?

The objective of the trip was to build upon the existing relationship the City of Houston has with Cuba. Houston, primarily through the Port of Houston, has engaged in exempt embargo exchanges for decades. I believe Mayor Sylvester Turner, Jamey Rootes Chairman of the Greater Houston Partnership and Bob Harvey, President of the Greater Houston Partnership who led the our delegation facilitated the mission’s objective successfully.

We were able to reinforce our interest in building stronger ties between our city and the island. Commissioners from the Port of Houston, City Council Members, Chair of the Texas Medical Center, Director of the Houston Airport System, corporate executives from major corporations such as Siemans, United Airlines and Halliburton and other delegation members shared how their respective expertise can help Cuba as it seeks foreign investment, training, goods and services.

No deals were signed as all trade of goods and services are contingent upon the U.S. Congress lifting of the embargo or obtaining a special license from the Office of Foreign Asset Control of the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Cuba Business Report:  Are the Texas businesses who want to do business with Cuba further ahead today after the trade mission?   In what ways?

I believe business that engages earlier have a slight head-start because as with most business relationships it starts with an introduction.  However there’s plenty of opportunity for other U.S. firms.  To provide you some context, the most recent refinery built in Cuba was in the 1970s by the Russians and the last refinery built by the Americans in the 1950s.   The refinery built by the Americans has better technology than the 20 years younger Russian refinery.  Cuba has many needs from overhauling their entire power grid, construction, engineering, updated technology, energy exploration, training and other resources to develop a robust energy sector.  That’s just the energy sector.  There are comparable opportunities in all other sectors including, but not limited to, transportation, tourism, healthcare, education, technology, sports, construction and engineering.

Cuba Business Report:  If a U.S. business wishes to do business in Cuba, what would you recommend as a first step?

I advise companies interested in doing business in Cuba to focus on developing a relationship, understand the culture, adhere to Cuban’s protocols and focus on what the Cubans need. The Cubans operate differently than many Americans are accustom.   The Cubans place an emphasis on relationships because they are focused on the long term.

Cuba Business Report:  Okay, so a business goes to Cuba with you on a trade mission.   What are the next steps for these businesses after they return from the trip?

The initial step is to assess if they are able to provide the goods and/or services the Cubans are requesting. Secondly, the company needs to evaluate the potential return on their investment.  Lastly, if they are plan to move forward they should understand it may take significant time and patience because they’ll either have to obtain a special license to do business in Cuba via OFAC or wait for the U.S. Congress to lift the trade embargo.  Given the momentum and increasing demand I think the lifting of the trade and travel embargo is a matter of time. The companies that are proactive in pursuing opportunities in Cuba early are likely to have a competitive advantage.

Thank you Felix Chevalier for sharing this with us and those considering doing business in Cuba.  It’s a great perspective on what participating in a trade delegation to Cuba offers.

About Felix Chevalier:

Felix Chevalier,  Partner of The Chevalier Law Firm, PLLC  is based in Houston, Texas USA.   Felix is an experienced Business & Government Affair Attorney representing Fortune 500 Companies in various industries, including transportation, development, telecommunications, manufacturing, engineering and finance.   He is adept at facilitating commercial transactions and structuring public-private partnerships deals.   Felix is currently representing major corporations seeking to do business in Cuba by navigating them through the intricate process.

Felix’s civic engagement includes serving as a Member of Engage Cuba,  the leading coalition of private companies and organizations working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba.  He  received his Juris Doctorate from St. John’s University School of Law.   Felix is a native New Yorker, speaks Spanish and the son of Cuban parents.  To learn more, please visit The Chevalier Law Firm website at www.chevalierlaw.com.

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