Cuban and Virginian port authorities sign trade cooperation MOU

Alicia Nicholls

According to the website of the Office of the Virginia Governor, the port authorities of Cuba and the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to “evaluate commercial opportunities between the Port of Virginia and Cuba’s newly opened Port of Mariel Special Development Project”.

The MOU is one of the outcomes of a three-day trade mission led by the Governor of Virginia, Terry Auliffe, to Cuba as part of a thrust towards strategically positioning Virginia to benefit from the normalisation of US-Cuba relations. According to the Governor’s website, the signed MOU “establishes a platform for cooperation and information sharing aimed at developing links between Cuba and Virginia to support waterborne trade and investment, improve customer service, enhance collaboration to achieve improved business practices, and increase the level of vessel services available between the two entities”.

This latest move comes against the backdrop of a thawing of US-Cuba relations under the Obama administration, including the rescission of Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, the re-establishment of diplomatic ties, amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and the signing of a commercial air services agreement for the eventual resumption of commercial aviation service between the two countries last year.

Despite a growing groundswell of US companies chomping at the bit to enter the Cuban market, the US’ illegal embargo on Cuba remains. Late last year the US Government once again voted against a UN General Assembly resolution introduced at Cuba’s request condemning, and calling for the end of the embargo. The US embargo on Cuba which has been in place since 1960 has sought to economically and financially isolate Cuba by banning most American trade to and from the island, with stiff penalties for US companies and individuals who infringe these laws. US companies are also prohibited from selling goods to Cuba on credit. Although some agricultural trade currently exists between Cuba and Virginia, it has been recognised that full trade potential will not be realised until the economic, commercial and financial restrictions imposed by the US Federal Government are removed completely.

The fourth US governor to visit Cuba since 2014, Governor Auliffe was one of the nine US governors who penned a bi-partisan letter dated October 9, 2015 to the US Congress advocating for an end to the restrictions impeding trade between the US and Cuba.

Further information on this development may be obtained from the press release on the Governor of Virginia’s website.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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