By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The US decision to normalise diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than 50 years could greatly benefit Bahamian firms looking to do business in the communist country, a leading private sector representative believes,
Edison Sumner, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) chief executive, told Tribune Business that the organisation was aiming to explore reciprocal trade agreements with Cuba.
“We had planned to lead another mission to Cuba this fall, but that did not materialise,” he said. “We would seek to take a delegation, about 20 businesses, some time within the first part of 2015.
“We have enjoyed a very good relationship with the Cubans that are here. It’s been a great level of co-operation and collaboration between the Chamber of Commerce and the Cuban ambassador in the Bahamas.
“We have been presented with, and are reviewing currently, a Memorandum of Understanding between the Chamber of Commerce of the Bahamas and the Chamber in Cuba to expand trade in services and opportunities between the Bahamas and Cuba.”
US president Barack Obama last Wednesday announced sweeping changes to US policy with Cuba, moving to normalise relations with the island.
Under the new measures, the US plans to reopen its embassy in Havana and significantly ease restrictions on travel and commerce within the next several weeks and months.
“The announcement made by the president that they are now moving to lift the embargos and the sanctions, and open the doors for trade between those two countries, I think is also going to be a great benefit to Bahamian businesses who are seeking to do business with Cuban companies and vice-versa,” Mr Sumner said.
“When we met previously with the ambassador, we highlighted some of the concerns we have from previous missions to Havana, and he gave assurance that he will seek to have them addressed. In fact, some of them had already been addressed and that related largely to the ease of doing business in Cuba by Bahamian businesses.
“That veil seems to be lifted or is lifting, and it provides an opportunity now for what might be freer commence between Cuba and the Bahamas. We have always enjoyed a good relationship with Cuba as far as trade is concerned, but we always seek to have trade done on a reciprocal basis.
“We don’t want to go to Cuba to find out what we can export from Cuba, but we also want to see what goods and services we are able to export from the Bahamas into Cuba so that the trade relationship is not a one-way street.
“We would be interested in seeing out of this new development whether many of the major industries in Cuba will continue to be operated and owned by the government of Cuba, or if they are going to be prepared, through this announcement of this new paradigm, to allow private businesses to enter into those industries that have been reserved for the Cuban government.
“We are interested in expanding or at least having some dialogue in being able to open some new synergies between the Bahamas and Cuban businesses.”