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    Port Manatee should temper Cuba dreams, expert says

    Port Manatee should temper Cuba dreams, expert says
    BY MATT M. JOHNSON September 17, 2015 Updated 9 hours ago

    PORT MANATEE — The editor of a Cuba-focused business and economics
    newspaper is urging Port Manatee officials to temper trade expectations
    for the communist island nation, despite the resumption of diplomatic
    ties with the U.S.

    Johannes Werner, editor of the Florida-based Cuba Standard, told port
    authority members and management Thursday that long-term prospects for
    doing business with Cuba are good, but that any immediate rush to open
    tourism and cargo markets there won’t pay off for some time. In the
    short term, he said, that nation’s government is moving slowly and
    dealing largely with nations with longstanding trade relations.

    Cuba will not, Werner said, emulate the U.S. free-market system any time
    soon. Still, he urged the port and its clients to be ready to do
    business in Cuba when it finally opens to U.S business.

    “Cuba will remain communist,” he said. “It will remain a very different
    market for anyone who wants to do business there.”

    Werner made his presentation to the port to address what he called
    “inflated expectations” in the U.S. for Cuban trade.

    Port Manatee is looking to the reopening island economy as a potential
    boost to its bottom line. It has attracted two passenger ferry companies
    interested in operating out of the port. Also, the port’s executive
    director, Carlos Buqueras, believes cargo trade through Cuba’s newly
    built port at Mariel could also benefit the port.

    But Werner, a Sarasota resident, said other nations have beaten the U.S.
    to the punch in Cuba. Brazilian money and contractors built Muriel,
    which likely puts that South American nation first in line when it comes
    to trade there. On the passenger ferry front, Werner said a Spanish
    company has already proposed to build and operate a passenger ferry
    terminal at the Port of Havana.

    Cuba has yet to license any U.S. ferry operators to sail to the country,
    even though the U.S. government has already licensed operators on its
    end. Also, a half-century-old trade embargo against Cuba remains in place.

    At the same time, normalization of diplomatic relations between the U.S.
    and Cuba is credited for accelerating Cuba’s status as the next great
    tourism and trade market. Open to tourists since the early 1990s, the
    island nation is expected to double its tourism volume from the current
    3 million annually in the next few years, Werner said. At Mariel, 119
    international companies are prepared to commit to bringing goods and
    facilities to the port.

    Cuban government officials are receiving international delegations daily
    and are travelling the world to talk business. They are looking to
    capitalize on Cuba’s traditional place as a hub in the Caribbean.

    “The pace of deals is accelerating now,” Werner said.

    The Cuban economy has room to grow. Roughly the size of Florida, the
    island has a gross domestic product of about $77 billion a year,
    according to the World Bank. By comparison, the Miami-Ft.
    Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro area posted a 2013 GDP of about $281
    billion, government figures show.

    Werner’s cautionary presentation caught the interest of several people.
    Chris Sheils, general manager of Arrow Terminals’ Port Manatee
    stevedoring operation, said his company wants to see an end to the
    embargo and other restrictions on cargo trade with Cuba. While ending
    the embargo is in the purview of Congress, Werner said President Barack
    Obama may be able to make some executive decisions before he leaves
    office that could get freighters moving.

    Authority member Betsy Benac asked Werner what the timeframe is for U.S.
    companies wanting to do business in Cuba. He said some companies should
    be able to start now by going after tiny niche markets, but most will
    have to wait for their turn in a “phase in” process that will likely
    stretch over the next couple of years.

    The Cuba Standard circulates in the U.S. and internationally. About a
    third of its readers are in Cuba. Port Manatee also subscribes to the

    Werner has been a frequent traveller to Cuba. He said he plans to return
    to the nation later this year.

    Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at
    941-745-7027 or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.

    Source: Port Manatee should temper Cuba dreams, expert says | Port
    Manatee | Bradenton Herald –