Thirteen companies from the U.S. in a back corner of a pavilion manned stands during this year’s trade fair in Cuba, in a big sign of how the interest by U.S. companies in doing business on the Caribbean island continues to dwindle during the first year of the new White House administration.
In 2016, amidst enthusiasm following renewed diplomatic relations between then President Barack Obama and Cuba’s leader Raul Castro, 33 companies from the U.S. took stands during the fair, which is the premier event on the business calendar in Cuba.
However, at this year’s event, which took place in Havana last week, the mood was quite different. While China arrived with a record number of companies, and over 150 Spanish businesses came, the handful of businessmen from the U.S. were downbeat.
One delegate from Miami said it was the most deserted he has seen it. He has attended the fair 15 years and said that over the last year people have become very discouraged and feel it might by better investing time and money somewhere else.
Companies from the U.S. embraced Cuba following the re-opening of relations as they tried to find a foothold in a market of more than 11 million consumers.
Thanks to the exemptions related to travel in the embargo, airlines from the U.S. restored flights on a regular basis. Starwood Hotels, a Marriott subsidiary, took over the management of a hotel in Cuba, and cruise operators such as Carnival Cruise, based in Florida included Cuba again on itineraries.
However, worsening relations with the U.S. as well as a growing awareness of how difficult it can be to do business in Cuba dampened enthusiasm.
In June, Trump ordered tighter travel and trade restrictions including banning business with the military. On Wednesday, the regulations were unveiled.
Former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who was born in Cuba, called the move a big step backwards.
A diplomatic crisis that has unfolded over the allegations of U.S. diplomats being attack in Havana added to the recent gloom.
Following the détente under Obama, farmers in the U.S. hoped for new legislation that would allow them to received credit for exports to the Caribbean island nation, but Trump made it very clear he would not ease, let along lift, the more than half-century old embargo.
An agriculture commissioner in Louisiana said that food exports from the U.S. to Cuba cold reach $1 billion if the relations became normalized.