U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker Delivers Remarks at Cuba Consortium's First Annual Washington Conference


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Today, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker delivered remarks at the Cuba Consortium’s first annual Washington Conference themed “Prospects for United-States Cuba Normalization, Commerce and Investment.” The Consortium is a newly-formed assembly of public and private sector leaders, as well as representatives from academia, organized to track the normalization process in both countries and opportunities for its members to engage Cuba.

During her remarks, Secretary Pritzker discussed the Obama Administration’s commitment to expanding our economic relationship with Cuba.  U.S. Senator Tom Daschle and Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca also attended the conference.

The White House announced today that President Obama will travel to Cuba in March to continue to build on the progress we have made toward normalization of relations with Cuba. Secretary Pritzker traveled to Havana in October 2015 to co-chair the first U.S.-Cuba Regulatory Dialogue and kicked off the second round of the Dialogue yesterday in Washington, D.C.  

Remarks As Prepared For Delivery

Thank you, Senator Daschle, for the kind introduction, and for your commitment to building relationships between the people of Cuba and the United States.

I want to thank and congratulate the Cuba Consortium.  Your organization is doing important work to build a coalition of people from across the political spectrum in support of more engagement between our two countries.  Bipartisan efforts like yours are essential to achieving our shared vision of a normalized bilateral relationship.

Minister Malmierca, I also want to thank you for being here this week. Your presence is a clear indication of your commitment and your government’s commitment to writing a new chapter in the story of U.S.-Cuba relations and to deepening the mutually beneficial economic ties between our people. My colleagues and I look forward to continuing to work closely with you to unlock new opportunities for engagement and commerce. 

And of course, we are all excited about President Obama’s historic announcement that he will visit Havana soon, which will undoubtedly push our relationship even further forward.

Last October, I became the first Secretary of Commerce to visit Havana in more than 50 years, where Minister Malmierca and I opened the first-ever U.S.-Cuba Regulatory Dialogue.  Our visit had a number of goals, the first of which was purely diplomatic. After so many years of not speaking, our governments simply did not know each other, and normalization meant we needed to start engaging, listening, and understanding. This was a central part of my visit to Havana, and I know it is one of Minister Malmierca’s objectives here.

The second goal of our visit last October was basic fact finding about how the Cuban economy works. For example, we needed to learn about the rules and regulations that govern the import, export, and distribution of goods across the island.  We gained a much greater understanding about the Cuban economy during that visit. In fact, our most recent regulatory changes were guided – in part – by the information my delegation gleaned during our meetings in Havana, the regulatory dialogue, and in subsequent conversations with various stakeholders.

As you all know, the Departments of Commerce and Treasury have made four significant rounds of changes to our regulations. The most recent round was published at the end of January and built on the previous changes in three significant ways.

First, the new regulatory adjustments create a general policy of approval of exports for purposes such as: disaster preparedness and relief, education, agricultural production, artistic endeavors, food processing, public transportation, Cuban civil society, enhanced communications on the island, and civil aviation safety.

Second, the Bureau of Industry and Security will now review on a case-by-case basis proposed exports from U.S. companies to Cuban state-owned enterprises and government entities to determine if the export will meet the needs of the Cuban people. During our visit to Havana, we learned that in Cuba – as in many of our other trading partners around the world – it is necessary to work with state-owned enterprises in order to support the local private sector.

Accordingly, our new regulations make it possible to work with SOEs when doing so supports our ultimate objective of expanding opportunities for the Cuban people. This is a significant change and an example of strong evidence-based policymaking at work.

Third, Treasury’s most recent regulatory revisions permit financing for most authorized exports and travel authorizations. In sum, whether environmental goods, telecommunications equipment, or products that private sector entrepreneurs need, the U.S. government’s regulatory changes permit a wide variety of trade and commercial activities.

However, if we are to truly maximize the benefits of our regulatory changes for the Cuban people, our colleagues in the Cuban government will need to take important steps.  As the United States continues to work to remove regulatory impediments to doing more business together, we are urging the Cuban government to make it easier for Cuban citizens to start their own businesses, purchase goods through wholesale markets, engage in external trade, secure credit, and access information online.

The bilateral civil aviation agreement signed on Tuesday is an example of what we have accomplished together. But let me be clear: there is still work to be done on both sides.

The U.S. embargo continues to be a roadblock to increasing engagement between our countries. As President Obama reaffirmed during his State of the Union address, our Administration strongly supports lifting the embargo, and we will continue to call on Congress to repeal it immediately.

The U.S. regulatory changes alone will not be sufficient to unlock Cuba’s potential and create opportunities for its people. If we are to achieve our mutual goal of a thriving Cuban private sector, the Cuban government must also address policy impediments that remain and continue to inhibit trade and investment. 

As someone with long experience as a businesswoman and a CEO, I can tell you that the policy challenges on both sides need to be addressed for commerce to thrive. Many of the issues – including currency unification – present longer term, structural challenges for the Cuban economy and will take time to resolve.

But there are a number of shorter term steps that the Cuban government can take to incentivize more commerce. These steps include making Cuban economic and business regulations publically available; providing clear public guidance on the relevant government units and officials that are empowered to make decisions on potential transactions; and authorizing exports that are now allowed by U.S. regulations.

Cuba’s willingness to make these changes will shape our countries’ relationship in the future. Now is the time to push this relationship forward. There is excitement among our peoples. And if we succeed, when our grandchildren look back 50 years from now, they will not be able to imagine a world where the United States and Cuba were anything but strong economic partners.

Minister Malmierca, thank you for coming to Washington, and thank you to the Cuba Consortium for the opportunity to speak with you today.

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