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    Charcoal — first legal cargo from Cuba in more than 50 years — arrives at Port Everglades

    Charcoal — first legal cargo from Cuba in more than 50 years — arrives
    at Port Everglades
    BY MIMI WHITEFIELD

    The first Cuban exports since the embargo went into effect over a half
    century ago arrived at Port Everglades Tuesday as port officials
    prepared to receive a business delegation from Cuba later in the week.

    The delegation also plans to visit the Port of Palm Beach, which is
    located in Riviera Beach, and Port Tampa Bay durina a swing through the
    United States that has already included a stop at the Port of Houston.
    Also on the itinerary are visits to the Port of New Orleans and the Port
    of Virginia in Norfolk and meetings with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in
    Washington D.C., members of Congress and the American Association of
    Port Authorities, which is holding a conference in Tampa.

    Two containers of artisanal charcoal made from Cuban Marabú, an invasive
    woody species from Africa that is considered a nuisance on the island,
    arrived at the Fort Lauderdale port aboard a Crowley Maritime ship
    called the K-Storm. The charcoal exports, which are produced by private
    worker-owned cooperatives, are legal under a rule change by the former
    Obama administration that allows the importation of some products
    produced by independent Cuban entrepreneurs.

    In Cuba, Marabú has taken over wide swaths of idle agricultural land and
    strangled other plants. But it makes a hardwood charcoal that is winning
    acceptance as a fuel for pizza and bread ovens in Europe and the Middle
    East. It will be sold under the Fogo Charcoal brand by various U.S.
    retailers.

    The charcoal deal was put together by Coabana Trading, a subsidiary of
    Reneo Consulting, a firm chaired by Scott Gilbert, the Washington D.C.
    lawyer who represented Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor who was
    jailed by the Cuban government for five years.

    “This is truly a momentous occasion,” Gilbert said when the deal for 40
    tons of charcoal was announced earlier this month. “Now U.S. consumers
    will be able to purchase this product, as have Europeans and others for
    many years. More importantly, this marks the beginning of a new era of
    trade between the United States and Cuba.”

    The agreement was struck with CubaExport, a Cuban government entity that
    develops trade opportunities, but Scott said that the Marabú plant is
    cut and the charcoal produced by private Cuban cooperatives.

    The embargo still remains in effect, but executive orders issued by
    Obama over the past two years eased some Cuba-related travel and trade
    restrictions.

    Although the transaction was negotiated under the Obama opening, the
    historic Cuban exports are arriving during the Trump administration.
    Trump has said he might roll back some of Obama’s executive orders on
    Cuba unless Cuba offers a better deal to the United States and Secretary
    of State-nominee Rex Tillerson has said that all Obama’s executive
    orders on Cuba will be reviewed.

    Whether Cuban charcoal becomes a staple of U.S. trade with the island
    remains to be seen.

    “It’s experimental, but the importer hopes to have regular shipments,”
    said Jay Brickman, vice president of government services and Cuba
    service at Crowley. Brickman called the shipment “the first truly
    commercial shipment from a Cuban cooperative to a private U.S. business
    since the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo was imposed more than 50 years ago.”

    The shipping line makes thrice-monthly trips from Port Everglades to
    Cuba’s container port in Mariel and also calls in Honduras and Guatemala
    before returning to the Fort Lauderdale port. Crowley mostly carries
    frozen chicken parts and foodstuffs to Cuba but it also handles small
    amounts of other legal exports to the island and was involved in
    shipping some of the equipment that the Rolling Stones used in their
    historic concert in Cuba in March 2016.

    Crowley has been calling on Cuba for the past 15 years. “We average
    about 40 to 45 loads of cargo [for Cuba] per voyage,” said Brickman.

    Another port user, Pearl Seas Cruises’ Pearl Mist, is currently on its
    maiden voyage to Cuba from Port Everglades.

    On Thursday, a Cuban delegation will be at Port Everglades to sign a
    memorandum of understanding between the port and the National Port
    Administration of Cuba that could pave the way for joint marketing
    studies, joint training and other cooperation, said Jim Pyburn, the
    port’s director of business development.

    “We would like to see U.S. exports to Cuba increase; imports are good,
    too,” said Pyburn.

    He hopes for a future when large U.S. grocery chains and shopping clubs
    ship food to Cuba from the port. “Cubans are in dire need of paint and
    basic building materials and we’d like that to be part of the [export]
    mix, too,” he said.

    At Port Everglades, the seven-member Cuban delegation will begin its day
    with a meeting with Port Director Steven Cernak, tour the port and then
    lunch with executives from Crowley and the cruise lines. In the
    afternoon, the delegation will present a “Doing Business with Cuba”
    seminar for about 150 invited businesses executives. It will include
    presentations on inland and sea transportation in Cuba, the Mariel
    Container Terminal and the Mariel Special Economic Development Zone,
    which is prospecting for foreign investment projects leading to
    sustainable economic development.

    The Cuban delegation includes Ana Teresa Igarza, general director of the
    Mariel zone; José Leonardo Sosa Barrios, deputy director of the Mariel
    Container Terminal; Eradis González de la Peña, president of Almacenes
    Universales; René Rolando Fernández, director of inland waterway and sea
    transport for the Ministry of Transportation; Tania Vazquez, an official
    with the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment; Joel Lago from the
    Cuban Embassy in Washington’s economic and trade office, and Ernesto
    Viñas, an adviser to the deputy minister of transportation.

    Pyburn said Port Everglades had been working on an MOU with Cuba since
    early 2016 but originally it was only going to cover Mariel, which is
    about 28 miles west of Havana. Now, with the involvement of the National
    Port Administration, it will cover all Cuban ports.

    He said the MOU was completed for signing in May. But there was little
    action until Brickman visited Washington in December. During the trip,
    Brickman said he received a call from the Cuban Embassy “saying the
    Cubans would really like to sign a memorandum of understanding with Port
    Everglades.” He helped facilitate the visit and the signing.

    The Port of Palm Beach also is expected to sign a MOU with the Cuban
    port administration on Friday.

    FOLLOW MIMI WHITEFIELD ON TWITTER: @HERALDMIMI

    Source: First legal cargo shipment from Cuba arrives at Port Everglades
    | Miami Herald –
    www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article128433209.html