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Mississippi’s trade mission to Cuba stymied by Trump orders

By JACK WEATHERLY

With some exceptions, American travelers won’t be able to stay in famed writer Ernest Hemingway’s favorite Havana hotel.

The Hotel Ambos Mundo is on the state Department’s restricted list issued earlier this month.

One hundred and eighty government-owned businesses, including 83 hotels, are on the Cuba Restrictions List imposed on Nov. 9.

What do the hotel restrictions have to do with the Mississippi economy?

Nothing directly, but when Cubans get hungry, they go for protein, said John Patchoski of Koch Foods in Pascagoula, a chicken processor.

“Obviously if tourism is hurt then there is less money going into the pockets of the Cuban citizens,” Patchoski said in an email. “When they have extra money they tend to spend it on protein, American chicken being one of best priced proteins they can buy. So there could be a drop in consumption from less tourists and less money in the Cuban pockets.”

The restrictions imposed by Trump as executive orders – a favorite strategy of his predecessor, President Barack Obama – seek to deny government-owned businesses from benefiting from American trade.

Cuba, a communist country still under the control of the Castro family, is widely criticized for its human rights violations, according to Human Rights Watch.

Trump in June vowed to do what he could the end “the long reign of suffering” under the regime established after the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro, who died last year. His brother, Raul, is currently president.

The Mississippi Development Authority, which says it does not take a position on federal policy, had been enthusiastic about possible increased trade with the nation of 11 million people.

Rose Boxx, director of MDA’s International Trade Division, said in March, a month after the agency led a trip to Cuba to explore possibilities:

“The areas holding the most potential are . . . food products such as produce, poultry, rice and other agricultural products and for logistics in the case of our two deep water ports, Gulfport and Pascagoula,”

“Cuba imports most of the commodities they consume and use on a daily basis.”

She said the ports signed a memorandum of understanding with the Cuba National Port Administration during the trade mission.

Poultry accounted for $2.9 billion of the state’s $7.6 billion agricultural value in 2016.

Laurel-based Sanderson Farms, the nation’s No. 3 poultry producer, did not send a representative to Cuba.

Mark McAndrews, director of the Port of Pascagoula, said in an interview Tuesday that U.S. exports to Cuba took a nosedive after other countries, including Vietnam, started offering credit in 2014.

McAndrews he and MDA officials returned to Cuba in April “to see if we couldn’t target some of those commodities, like rice and poultry. The Thomasson guys were down there talking with them about utility poles.”

Philadelphia, Miss.-based Thomasson Co. told the Mississippi Business Journal recently that the company dropped that effort after Trump’s statements in June about a hard line on trade with the country.

“It seemed like some progress was being made,” McAndrews said, “There was this proposed lifting of the restrictions. There was more dialogue going on, but I suspect the clamping back down . . . probably poured some cold water on a lot of those.”

The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation said in an emailed statement that it supports “normalizing” trade with Cuba. With more than 192,000 member families, it is a voluntary, non-governmental, non-partisan organization.

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About Jack Weatherly

One comment

  1. Don’t worry Mississippi: thanks to Donald Trump, who you collectively helped elect, China will take all that money you would have made.

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