Posted at 11:56 AM
Today, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker delivered the opening remarks at the second U.S.-Cuba Regulatory Dialogue, which is being hosted by the Departments of Commerce and Treasury in Washington, D.C. from February 17-18, 2016. Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca also delivered opening remarks.
Secretary Pritzker discussed the regulatory changes that have been enacted since the first Regulatory Dialogue, held in Havana last October. The Regulatory Dialogues aim to facilitate more effective implementation of new U.S. policies toward Cuba.
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Minister Malmierca, we greatly appreciate that you and your team have traveled to Washington this week – especially in February, when it is so cold and dreary outside. After the winter we have had here in DC, I could certainly use some of your Havana sunshine!
It is my pleasure to host you and your delegation for the second U.S.-Cuba Regulatory Dialogue. I want to express my sincere thanks for hosting our highly informative inaugural meeting last October. I anticipate that today’s meeting will be equally productive.
Recently the Departments of Commerce and Treasury published another set of regulatory changes, which were informed by our discussions in October and by feedback from U.S. companies. Our previous regulatory updates and these current changes are intended to increase the standard of living for the Cuban people and enable them to use the Internet to innovate, learn, and express themselves.
Our most recent changes also provide U.S. companies with more opportunity to do business in Cuba, including with state-owned enterprises, if such business meets the needs of the Cuban people. Taken together, the regulatory changes that the U.S. government has made will permit trade and economic engagement in a wide range variety of areas, ranging from environmental protection and energy efficiency; telecommunications; agricultural production; disaster preparedness; education; and consumer goods to providing the supplies and equipment needed by private sector entrepreneurs, who make up a rapidly growing part of the Cuban economy.
Over the last several months, my team has been meeting with business leaders from all over our country. It is clear that they want to do business in your country. In just 2015, Commerce issued 490 authorizations worth a total of $4.3 billion, an almost 30% increase in the volume of previous years. In 2016, Commerce has already issued 28 authorizations worth about $300 million in just the first 40 days or so of the year. Clearly, interest in doing business in Cuba is high.
We continue to conduct extensive outreach to companies and other interested parties to ensure they understand how these new regulatory changes work and what they permit. We will continue these outreach efforts because we want our stakeholders to seize this new opportunity.
But we need help from the Cuban side. The U.S. companies that are attempting to do business in your country continue to face challenges. Some of the impediments are related to issues that we have discussed before. They include the requirement that foreign businesses hire Cubans through state organizations; problems reaching people in your government to discuss business opportunities; and difficulties in identifying and accessing the relevant Cuban laws and regulations.
Today’s meeting provides us with an opportunity to make progress on these and other issues. Specifically, let’s really push our teams to address concerns of the American private sector, discuss how our recent regulatory changes can be implemented most effectively, and learn more about the Cuban economy.
Our meetings last October gave us a deeper understanding of how your system works, and we are eager to gain more insight today and in the months to come. We are also interested in hearing about any new changes to Cuban business and trade regulations, as well as changes that may be considered at the upcoming Party Congress.
Our hope is that these discussions allow us to identify areas where U.S. companies can use Commerce or Treasury licenses or general authorizations to do more business in Cuba. Our regulatory changes are not intended to foster a reciprocal response. That said, without specific changes on your side that allow the private sector to engage, our changes will not unlock the opportunities for the Cuban people that both of us hope to see.
To seize this moment and start building a relationship between our nations, it is important that we see concrete policy changes that make it easier for U.S. businesses to capitalize on our regulatory changes. Such changes will demonstrate Cuba’s commitment to increasing trade ties with the United States for the benefit of the Cuban people.
I hope the discussions between our experts over the next two days will pave the way for progress that creates more prosperity for the people of Cuba and the United States and more opportunities for our people to get to know each other.
This is an extraordinary moment. Our countries are making progress, as evidenced by the bilateral civil aviation agreement signed yesterday, but we have more to do. Our work here today and over the next year will shape not only the U.S.-Cuban commercial relationship moving forward, but the economic futures of millions of Cubans who have been limited by decades of isolation.
This is truly a historic opportunity, and I look forward to seizing this moment together. Thank you.