Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Antigua planning early moves on Cuban market

Published:Friday | June 10, 2016 | 6:00 AM

Antigua and Barbuda is sending a trade mission to Cuba that Trade, Commerce, and Industry Minister Paul Chet Greene sees as imperative given the imminent lifting of the decades-old trade embargo.

"We need to get in on the ground in Cuba as early as possible as the potential for business opportunities is significant," he said of the June 20-July 1 mission.

Greene said that new shipping lanes will soon open into Cuba, making the island of 11 million people accessible to products from Antigua and Barbuda and other countries.

On weekly a basis, a number of containers leave Antigua empty, bound for the United States. That, he said, offers an opportunity to boost trade.

"We could arrange for these containers to take goods destined for Cuba back to Miami, then it's a quick trans-shipment to Havana," said Greene.

"I see much prospect from jumping in early with this mission to Cuba ...," he said, expressing confidence in the quality of the products that will be on display when the mission visits Cuba.

The Antigua mission will also be exploring the possibility of assisting Cuba develop a cricketing programme.

"We are looking to export our human capital as the mission will include a cricket coach. Some time ago, Cuba had expressed an interest in developing a cricket programme. Just as Cuba, over the years, has exported its medical personnel to Antigua and Barbuda, we are thinking of doing the reverse - that of exporting coaches from our cadre of coaches."

Greene said that the Ministry of Tourism will also play an important role in the mission and that he expects discussions with Cuban representatives will include air links, noting that Cuba already has its national airline, Cubana, which may be used to service a Antigua-Cuba route.

Antigua has otherwise been trying to ramp up trade relations with countries outside the Caricom bloc. Greene said last year's mission to Guadeloupe and Martinique has paid dividends, notwithstanding that it had also created some trading challenges that are yet to be overcome.

"It's quite a challenge getting our goods into those two French departments. We have orders that we can fill, but getting the goods into those territories create quite a problem even though we now have a regular ferry service between Antigua and Guadeloupe," he said.

"There is still no cargo service," the minister explained.

In contrast, Greene was more upbeat about Dominican Republic, saying direct links are already in place, as well Cuba once the United States lifts the trade embargo fully. Havana and Washington have already begun to redevelop relations, but it will require an act of the US Congress to end the embargo.