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Ala. trade deal with Cuba could impact Georgia port; Fla. balks under pressure from governor

port of mobile, 2, ala

The Port of Mobile is a deep water port said to be the 10th largest in the U.S., based on trade. Credit: forestoperationsreview.org

By David Pendered

Cuba and Alabama signed a deal Thursday to explore opportunities to grow trade between the state port in Mobile and Cuba. A similar deal planned for two ports in Florida was cancelled following threats by Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott to cut state funding to any state port that signed a deal with Cuba.

port of mobile, ala

Alabama just signed a deal with Cuba to look for opportunities to boost trade between the port in Mobile and ports in Cuba. Credit: jjpragency.com

The impact on Georgia was not immediately clear Saturday. But implications for competition from Alabama are clear: The state port in Brunswick led the nation in trade bound for Cuba, according to a story posted in 2015 on savannahnow.com that cited research by The Miami Herald.

The port in Mobile is the 10th largest in the nation in total trade, according to a statement from the Alabama State Port Authority.

U.S-sanctioned trade between Alabama and Cuba is mainly poultry and forest products, according to the statement. The memorandum of understanding signed Thursday commits the two to extensive efforts to boost trade. Efforts are to involve:

  • “[C]ollaborating in port and cargo marketing studies and strategies, engaging in promotion and exhibition activities, and sharing data to the mutual benefit of their respective seaports as allowed under governing law in both countries.”

Alabama’s top port official expressed great hope that trade between the U.S. and Cuba will increase.

“We are seeing increasing demand for normalized trade between the United States and Cuba, and it is our goal to foster relationships between the ports and their maritime communities to further changes in U.S. Cuban trade policy and facilitate improved ocean carriage services to the benefit of our shippers,” James K. Lyons, chief executive officer of the port authority, said in a statement.

Cuba trade routes

Cuba is expanding its port in Santiago, which is located near the Windward Passage, the trade route that links the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The U.S. Gulf Coast can be reached through the pass between Cuba and Mexico. Credit: Google Earth, David Pendered

The tone in Florida was dramatically different.

Scott threatened to cut off state funding to any port that signed a deal with Cuba, according to reports by miamiherald.com. One story related these three tweets from the governor:

  • “Disappointed some FL ports would enter into any agreement with Cuban dictatorship. (1/3);
  • “I will recommend restricting state funds for ports that work with Cuba in my budget. (2/3);
  • “We cannot condone Raul Castro’s oppressive behavior. Serious security/human rights concerns. (3/3)”

Cuba was slated to sign deals with ports in Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and Tampa. The deals involving the East Coast ports were squashed, according to multiple published reports. The status of the deal with Tampa was unclear – readily available reports did not say if the deal had been signed or killed.

port of mobile, 2, ala

The Port of Mobile is a deep water port said to be the 10th largest in the U.S., based on trade. Credit: forestoperationsreview.org

A report by the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council stated Jan. 21 that Cuba’s National Ports Administration was slated sign deals with U.S. ports in Palm Beach, Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale), Tampa, and Alabama.

The council reports on its website that it does not take political position regarding political relations: “The organization is a private, not-for-profit, membership-based corporation that accepts neither United States government funding nor non-United States government funding.”

Cuba’s trade mission included visits to six port facilities, according to the council, including Houston, New Orleans and Norfolk. The delegation visited officials in Austin, Washington, D.C. The mission culminated with a conference Feb. 2-3 in Tampa that was hosted by the Virginia-based American Association of Port Authorities.

Cuba is getting help from China to expand its port on the southeast coastline, at Santiago de Cuba. China is said to be providing more than $100 million in loans to Cuba and the design-build development is being done by the China Communications Construction Company, according to a report in havanatimes.org.

The Santiago port will provide easy access to ports on the U.S. eastern seaboard, through the Windward Passage. Access to U.S. ports on the Gulf of Mexico could be reached via a route around the western tip of Cuba, or by shipping cargo from a port near Havana.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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