The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is examining the investment climate in Cuba, a tentative sign that the North American superpower wants to expand its business relationship with its communist neighbor. A delegation from the Chamber of Commerce reportedly visited Cuba recently to “lay the groundwork” for U.S. business activity in the island nation.
Among the visitors were Steve Van Andel, Chairman of Amway, and Marcel Smits, CFO of Cargill. According to reports, Cargill appears to be betting on Cuba’s cheap agriculture labor, while Amway is hoping to offer its direct marketing model to thousands of Cubans laid off by state companies.
Despite the ongoing trade embargo, the United States is the fifth largest exporter to Cuba (6.6% of Cuba’s imports are from the U.S.). However, Cuba must pay in cash for all imports, as credit is not allowed.
While in Cuba, Chamber president Thomas J. Donahue held meetings with Bruno Rodriguez, Cuban minister of foreign affairs, and Rodrigo Malmierca, minister of foreign trade and investment. Donahue has reportedly urged Cuba to reform laws related to foreign investment and iron out its differences with the United States.
Over the past two years, Cuba has shown interest in opening up its market to global investors. It has almost stopped subsidizing basic goods and foodstuffs, scaled down the size of social welfare programs and closed several loss-making state firms.
Cuba under Raul Castro wants to replicate China’s economic model and support its citizens who are hungry for jobs and economic progress.
The United Nations General Assembly has passed 22 resolutions calling for an end to the U.S. embargo, with the latest coming in October 2013, but the U.S. government has refused to relent with this most stubborn of policies. But President Barack Obama wants Cuba to release political prisoners and allow entry to U.S. telecom companies to end embargoes.