Will Cuban Products Ever Grace US Markets?

By Pilar Montes

Photo: Elio Delgado Valdés

HAVANA TIMES — The imminent lifting of restrictions on trade between the United States and Cuba is making me dream about Cuban products of excellence being sold around the world, and the island’s innovative medications, cigars and rum becoming available at US pharmacies and markets.

Even though the dispute settlement mechanism of the World Trade Organization voted against the United States’ Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1998, the legislation remains intact and stands as one of the main elements of the bundle of commercial and financial restrictions imposed on Cuba by Washington for over fifty years.

This US law is in violation of WTO precepts and the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, prohibiting the sale of Cuban cigars and rum in the US market, while Cuba has permitted more than five thousand US brands and patents to benefit from their registration in Cuba throughout the 54 years of suspended diplomatic relations.

How will trade with the United States work after these restrictions have been lifted? Despite all its shortcomings, trade with Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s was conducted on the basis of preferences and credit that acknowledged the island was a developing country.

Today, Cuba’s trade with Latin America and the Caribbean has grown to account for nearly half of all foreign trade, and these transactions are complementary – that is to say, countries satisfy each other’s needs through it.

Cuba and most Third World countries, aware of the difficult conditions under which international trade is conducted, a situation in which industrialized nations expect poorer countries to open their doors to free trade (while they impose draconian terms, continue to subsidize their agricultural sectors and are not too receptive to technology transfers). Likewise, they are joining forces in their own defense more and more.

We would have to think about whether Cuba’s new relations with the United States if they will bring more equitable trade and the lifting of the current economic, commercial and financial restrictions.

What I’m certain of is that the current “New Deal” shouldn’t be styled after NAFTA, which, two decades after first being implemented, has brought considerable net losses, particularly for Mexico.

The Disastrous Effects of NAFTA

The 20-year assessment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) made by renowned US researchers Mark Weisbrot, Stephan Lefebvre and Joseph Sammut at the Center for Economic and Policy Research is enough to discourage even the most well-intentioned.

Since its implementation in 1994, NAFTA has not ceased to give rise to controversy. Its critics in different countries accuse it of having undermined key industry sectors, such as Mexico’s agriculture, or of having caused massive unemployment at US assembly plants, as many companies now prefer to set up shop in Mexico, drawn by cheap labor and the country’s geographical proximity.

The results yielded by the study reveal that Mexico ranks 18th out of 20 Latin American countries in terms of real per capita GDP growth, the most elemental measure of living standards.

Between 1960 and 1980, Mexico’s real per capita GDP almost doubled, growing by some 98.7 percent. Over the past 20 years, however, it has grown a mere 18.6 percent, almost half the growth rate reported by the rest of Latin America.

If NAFTA had been successful, the researchers point out, today Mexico would be a country with relatively high incomes, with a per capita income significantly higher than that of Portugal or Greece.

In addition, Washington would not have had any need to make migratory reform one of its domestic policy priorities.

The poor performance of Mexico’s economy contributed to a rise in emigration to the United States.

Between 1994 and 2000, the yearly number of Mexicans who immigrate to the United States shot up by 79 percent. The number of US residents born in Mexico doubled, going from 4.5 million in 1990 to 9.4 million in 2000. The figure reached a peak of 12.6 million in 2009.

In the current context of Latin American integration, I doubt Cubans will allow themselves to be sucked in by the promise of NAFTA-styled trade conditions.

8 thoughts on “Will Cuban Products Ever Grace US Markets?

  • October 5, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    I believe the American public would like to purchase goods made in Cuba. Additionally, if Cuban entrepreneurs are able to make quality products and are allowed to export said products then it is a start in the right direction. Speaking of, how does someone find a list/website of Cuban manufacturers? You don’t see much on Alibaba… ?

  • July 31, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    Haití says the same thing.

  • July 31, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    Moses, while you are undoubtedly correct when speaking of the present, you habitually neglect to rationalize the future potential of Cuba once it becomes possible for the island to export their current products and their future products to the US. The upshot is that eventually their quality and portfolio of products will certainly improve as a natural consequence of necessity to gain space on American store shelves. And further, with the increased incentive to maximize profits when exporting their products to the US, new efficiencies will no doubt insure a quality surplus for domestic consumption as well to decrease the island’s severe dependency on imports. Moses, it’s not what Cuba is today that matters…it’s what Cuba can become in the future when finally given the opportunity to prosper.

  • July 30, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    I have explained elsewhere in these pages, the background of the NAFTA negotiations and the pre-agreement with Mexica and Canada insisted upon by Carla Hills the US negotiator reporting to President George Bush Snr. to not discuss mobility of labor.
    At that time I described the purpose of the US Government as being “to have an onshore Taiwan.”
    The refusal to pursue a system of labor from any of the three countries having to possess green cards, meaning that their residence in any of the other two countries would be temporary and not bestow citizenship was indicative of Hills (the US Government) purpose. The US wanted to provide US companies with the opportunity to establish plants in Mexico and to use cheap labour. This in turn reduced manufacturing jobs in the US. Secondly it ensured that most Mexicans entering the US would do so illegally and eventually seek citizenship. This in turn resulted over 20 years in millions of Mexicans entering illegally rather than having green cards.
    However, from Canada’s angle NAFTA has been an enormous success and the massive increase in exports to the US demonstrates that. From the US point of view, Canada became the largest single “overseas” market and US companies succeeded in building plants in Mexico.

  • July 30, 2015 at 10:16 am

    We own and would like to lease (not sell) the name to a major company HavanaBrands.com so we’re also waiting for this to happen-we dont think it’s really far away.

  • July 29, 2015 at 11:42 pm

    While there are a handful of medicines developed in Cuba that could probably be imported, most of Labiofam products would not qualify for sale at a Rite Aid pharmacy in the US. Likewise, the overwhelming majority of Cuban-made goods could not compete with their US competition in terms of quality or packaging. If Cubans don’t want to wear Cuban-made clothes, why would Americans accept any less. Cuban agricultural goods don’t meet the needs of the Cuban people, much less be available for sale in the US. Other than rum, cigars and certain medicines, what are the “Cuban products of excellence” that Pilar is referring to?

  • July 29, 2015 at 11:29 pm

    I smoke a Cuban cigar at least once a week. Yet the truth is that “cubanos” are not the best cigars They are pretty good but not the best. Same goes for Cuban rum.

  • July 29, 2015 at 9:16 pm

    I had a neighbor in Tybee Island who had a case of Cuban Rum. The best I ever tasted. i’m not a cigar smoker but apparently yours are top of the list. You’ll rock and roll when the system morphs into something more attune towards creativity and a dose of less state run businesses. Best people I’ve ever met, and the hardest working are Cuban!

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