There’s a quiet optimism in the American business community in spite of what President-elect Donald Trump might or might not do as far as the Cuban-American relationship goes. Nobody is certain if he will step back in time and reverse the progress made or, follow a more pragmatic approach. However, some of the Cuba experts we spoke to agreed there’s a quiet optimism in the business community, a cautious optimism, if you will.
This optimism can be seen by the increase in trademark registration at the OCPI office in Cuba by American companies and the current push for contract agreements with Cuba by Google and General Electric (GE) before Trump enters office in January.
We decided to pose a couple of questions to some of the leading experts involved in the US-Cuba relationship and/or advancing business interests in Cuba. We had a chat with James Williams of Engage Cuba in Washington, Felix Chevalier of the Chevalier Law firm in Texas, and Judy Kruger of Kruger-International in Michigan to get their feedback on the current mood of the business community.
The questions we decided to ask these experts were as follows:
- Based on the (undeniable) continuing interest of American business and AG groups in doing business with Cuba and the increase of American trademark registrations with Cuba’s OCPI office, do you think there’s a “quiet optimism” in the U.S. business community?
- Do you think the U.S. President-elect will actually turn back the hands of time?
In speaking with Judy Kruger, Cuba growth strategist at Kruger-International, she outlined her take on the reasons for this optimism in business. She said, “there’s continued interest in doing business with Cuba because this is not the time to stall out on good efforts. Recent and significant game changers that are good for U.S.-Cuba business.”
Ms Kruger also saw Fidel Castro’s passing as relieving Cuba from its hard line against making concession with the U.S. She said, “In the past few years, President Raul Castro has been a softer and more approachable leader. This is evidenced by the generous incentives and new foreign investment laws that have passed under Raul’s leadership.”
Like many she believes the “next likely president of Cuba is Miguel Canal-Diaz who is known to be tech-savvy and business friendly.” Ms Kruger said, “no doubt there will be changes when President Castro retires from his leadership position.”
Ms Kruger also said, “that President-elect Trump’s continued harsh dialogue is shaking US-Cuba relations up and this may be a very good thing to push pass stalled agreements between the countries. Trump is known as an astute business man and will perhaps be perceived as leading businesses to Cuba, not away from Cuba. This may involve some unique regulatory changes that fit Trump’s style.”
She concluded by saying, “there’s an attraction factor to Cuba unlike any other emerging country. That won’t stop and companies ahead of the game will get a larger slice of the pie.”
We also spoke with Houston attorney Felix Chevalier, who advises U.S. companies seeking to enter the Cuban market. He described his clients as cautiously optimistic. “My clients are cautiously optimistic, but still vocal in their support of lifting the trade and travel embargo. There are entire US industries that can grow by entering the Cuban market. Companies, political leaders and trade associations will continue lobby the new administration and Congress to not only continue the ongoing negotiations with Cuba, but to also work towards normalized relations.
Mr Chevalier also said, “Clawing back all of the advancements that we’ve made in US-Cuba relations may be easier said than done. President-elect Trump has been very vocal on the subject of human rights in Cuba, but he is business man who is also looking to strengthen trade agreements and boost the U.S. economy. Hopefully he’ll support opportunities for US businesses to expand into the Cuban market and while seeking ways to improve human rights.”
Speaking on the same issues, James Williams of Engage Cuba said, “We have witnessed a strong optimism in the business community across the country. Just yesterday, we saw the announcement of two new cruise lines — Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line — that are planning to sail to Cuba next year. We’re also enthused by the robust support from American agriculture to open a market 90 miles off our shore. And just last week, several major U.S. airlines began direct flights into Havana, signaling their long-term commitment to operate in the country. Mr. Trump, a businessman, has long recognized the economic benefits of engaging with Cuba. No business in the world, including a Trump company, would continue to pursue a strategy that has failed for 55 years, and I would imagine that Mr. Trump would expect nothing less from the U.S. government.”
Thank you to Judy Kruger, Felix Chevalier and James Williams for speaking with us.