End to Cuban trade embargo could benefit boating industry

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U.S. companies applauded the White House announcement Wednesday of plans to lift the 54-year-old trade embargo with Cuba.

The development could be good news for the boating industry, which has been eyeing Cuba’s potential in recent months.

Marina consultant Richard Graves and Associates is planning a U.S.-sanctioned industry tour of the country for Feb. 18-22, directly after the Miami International Boat Show.

In an August interview, Graves predicted that the half-century-old embargo would be lifted soon, telling Trade Only Today that the trade ban “doesn’t make sense and solves nothing.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, companies that range from furniture maker Ethan Allen to General Motors praised the move despite opposition from the some Republican Party members.

“Cuba needs everything we make in the United States,” Bill Lane, global government affairs director for Caterpillar Inc., told the Wall Street Journal.

Lane said the company hopes to soon install a dealership in Cuba that can sell agricultural, construction and mining equipment. “We’ve been calling for a new policy toward Cuba for 15 years,” he said.

Graves pointed out in August that more than a decade ago, polls began showing a tilt in public sentiment regarding trade with Cuba.

A Washington Post-ABC News Poll in 2009 showed that two-thirds of Americans supported restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba and only 27 percent opposed doing so.

However, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was among several lawmakers who came out Wednesday denouncing the move. Rubio said he will try to block efforts to normalize trade relations with the country, according to the Washington Post.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association facilitated a U.S.-sanctioned research trip to Cuba on behalf of its members “with the objective to understand the market and make meaningful contacts and connections that may benefit recreational boating,” NMMA spokeswoman Ellen Hopkins told Trade Only during the summer.

Anticipating the end of the travel ban, Cuban state enterprises that are responsible for marine infrastructure have begun an unprecedented push to prepare the island nation for yacht tourism and U.S. boaters. Although there are only 15 marinas with 789 slips, there are plans to add 23 more marinas with more than 5,000 slips, Graves said.

The expansion of Marina Gaviota at Varadero, 90 miles from the Florida Keys, is intended to help augment facilities for large recreational boats. Accompanying the marina will be a five-star villa hotel development. Plans show a marina complex akin to Atlantis at Nassau in the Bahamas or St. Tropez in France, only larger.

After extensive renovations and a massive expansion, Marina Gaviota Varadero will become Cuba’s largest and most modern marina. When it is completed, it will accommodate about 1,200 boats. An official opening is planned for 2015, but vessels are using the marina now.

Last year, Cuban President Raul Castro announced the end of travel restrictions, making it easier for millions of Cubans to leave the communist country.

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