Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cuba and National Foreign Trade Council

National Foreign Trade Council ( NFTC )
NFTC Welcomes Omnibus Bill Provisions to Ease Flow of Agricultural Exports to Cuba
Washington, DC – The National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) and USA*Engage today praised Congress for including in the FY2010 omnibus spending bill provisions to ease the flow of U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba. The spending bill was approved by the Senate yesterday and is expected to be signed by President Obama in the coming days. NFTC Vice President for Global Trade Policy Jake Colvin released the following statement:

“We applaud Congress for including Cuba-related provisions in the omnibus bill. The agriculture provision will make it easier for American farmers and other agricultural exporters to sell their goods to Cuba. This is a small but welcome step in the right direction, and it is great to see that fixing Cuba policy remains on the radar screen for Congress.”

NFTC and USA*Engage Welcome New Cuba Regulations
Written by Jennifer Cummings
Tuesday, 08 September 2009
Washington, DC – The National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) and USA*Engage today welcomed the release of new Cuba regulations by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security. The regulations, which implement President Obama’s April 13 directive on Cuba policy, loosen restrictions on the ability of Cuban Americans and businesspersons to travel to Cuba, expand the amount of remittances and other items that may be sent or brought to Cuba, and allow for increased participation by U.S. businesses in Cuba’s telecommunication industry.

“We welcome the new regulations, which represent a shift in U.S policy and will help to advance diplomacy through increased travel to and communication with Cuba,” said NFTC President and USA*Engage Co-Chair Bill Reinsch. “In particular, we applaud changes in rules regulating the provision of telecommunications services and the loosening of travel restrictions related to the sale of agriculture, medical and communications equipment, allowing for increased contact between Cuba and the U.S. private sector.”

“While these changes are encouraging, Congress and the Administration can’t lose sight of the fact that there is much more work left to be done to reform U.S. Cuba policy,” said NFTC Vice President for Global Trade Issues Jake Colvin. “We encourage Congress to pass legislation lifting restrictions on the right of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, and hope that the Administration will further loosen restrictions on the ability of students, artists, researchers and others to travel to Cuba as permitted under current law. The Administration can do more here.”

NFTC, USA*Engage and 15 Other Organizations Urge President to Lift Cuba Academic Travel Restrictions
Written by Jennifer Cummings
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
Washington, DC – The National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) and USA*Engage today joined academic, cultural exchange and trade groups in sending a letter to President Obama, urging the Administration to lift restrictions on academic travel to Cuba. The letter sent by NAFSA: Association of International Educators and 16 other organizations recommended that academic travel to Cuba be permitted under general license and similarly, that visas be granted to Cubans coming to the United States for academic and cultural exchange.

“We are approaching the start of another academic year in which American students will find their opportunities to study abroad in Cuba to be severely curtailed because of regulations issued by the Bush administration…. we write in support of the very welcome actions that you have taken to begin to chart a new course in U.S. relations with Cuba, and to urge you, as you continue to develop new policies toward the island nation, to restore academic travel between our countries,” wrote the organizations.

“Exchange programs are often highlighted as a critical component of U.S. engagement in the world and have historically been a successful tool in building relations between nations,” they continued. “Cuba currently remains the only country in the world where the United States government restricts study by American students, as well as academic travel by bona fide teachers and researchers.”

In addition to the NFTC, USA*Engage and NAFSA, the letter was signed by organizations ranging from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and Community Colleges for International Development, to Orbitz Worldwide, the Latin America Working Group and the Washington Office on Latin America.

“A few months ago, the Administration took an important step toward improving relations with Cuba by allowing Cuban Americans to travel and send remittances to Cuba. There are, however, many steps left to take toward significant U.S. Cuba policy reform, and allowing academic travel is chief among them,” said NFTC President and USA*Engage Co-Chair Bill Reinsch.

“American students who study abroad play a key role in sharing U.S. values and perspectives with the rest of the world. Affording U.S. students the opportunity to engage in cultural exchange with Cuba will complement our diplomatic overtures and help promote dialogue, understanding and respect between the two nations,” said NFTC Vice President for Global Trade Issues Jake Colvin.

NFTC, USA*Engage Endorse Legislation to Permit Travel to Cuba
Written by Jennifer Cummings or Eric Thomas/The Fratelli Group/202-822-9491
Tuesday, 31 March 2009
In light of the March 31 press conference by Senators Dorgan and Enzi in support of S. 428, The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, NFTC Vice President for Global Affairs Jake Colvin released the following statement on congressional efforts to restore regular travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba.

“Americans are extraordinary ambassadors to the world. It’s time to fix this bizarre imbalance in U.S. policy which permits Americans to travel to countries like Iran and North Korea but prohibits them from hopping on a plane to Cuba.

“Sanctions eliminate the positive impact Americans have on the world through everyday activities and interaction with local people. Allowing travel to Cuba would benefit the Cuban people in more ways than one. More travelers to Cuba would mean more money in the hands of ordinary Cubans, while more interactions between the Cuban and American people would promote understanding, respect and shared values.

“From a business perspective, restoring travel to Cuba would benefit the U.S. travel industry immediately and has the potential to boost demand for certain American-made consumer products which are permitted by law to be exported to Cuba under the 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform Act. Changing course on U.S. Cuba policy would also be a shot in the arm for the U.S. image in the world, particularly in Latin America.

“NFTC applauds the leadership of Senators Dorgan, Enzi, Dodd, Lugar and Baucus on reforming U.S. Cuba policy. We urge the Obama Administration to support congressional efforts to restore the ability of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, and hope the President will implement measures administratively to roll back restrictions imposed by the Bush Administration.”

Cuba provisions in the FY2009 omnibus appropriations bill
The omnibus appropriations bill contains language that would amend the Trade Sanctions Reform Act to authorize travel for commercial sales under a general license, and defund enforcement of 1) the 2005 Bush administration changes to the rules governing “cash in advance” payments and 2) travel to visit family members. at Page 109:

SEC. 620. Section 910(a) of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (22 U.S.C. 7209(a)) is amended to read as follows:

"(a) AUTHORIZATION OF TRAVEL RELATING TO COMMERCIAL SALES OF AGRICULTURAL AND MEDICAL GOODS.-The Secretary of the Treasury shall promulgate regulations under which the travel-related transactions listed in paragraph (c) of section 515.560 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, are authorized by general license for travel to, from, or within Cuba for the marketing and sale of agricultural and medical goods pursuant to the provisions of this title."

Explanation: Current law permits specific licenses to be issued for “certain export transactions.” The omnibus provision makes explicit the ability to travel to Cuba for “marketing and sale” and allows travel under a general license, by which travelers self-determine their eligibility and may travel to Cuba without seeking individual authorization rather than under a “specific license” which requires an individual to apply for approval from the U.S. Department of Treasury.

SEC. 621. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to administer, implement, or enforce the amendments made to section 515.560 and section 515.561 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, related to travel to visit relatives in Cuba, that were published in the Federal Register on June 16, 2004.

Explanation: This provision does not change current law. It “de-funds,” or prohibits, the U.S. Government from enforcing current law with respect to the above-referenced provision until the spending bill expires. The policy it seeks to address involves changes made by the Bush administration to restrict the ability of Cuban Americans to visit family members in Cuba. The rules published on June 16, 2004 narrowed the definition of family, limited visits to 14 days once every three years, removed the exception to the regulations that allowed additional visits for humanitarian reasons, and require Cuban Americans to apply for a specific license for each visit to Cuba rather than traveling under a general license as was the case prior to June 2004.

SEC. 622. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to administer, implement, or enforce the amendment made to section 515.533 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, that was published in the Federal Register on February 25, 2005.

Explanation: This provision does not change current law. It “de-funds,” or prohibits, the U.S. Government from enforcing current law with respect to the above-referenced provision until the spending bill expires. The policy it seeks to address involves terms of payment governing shipments of U.S. exports to Cuba. The February 25, 2005 amendment altered the terms of “payment of cash in advance.'' The current definition “means that payment is received by the seller or the seller's agent prior to shipment of the goods from the port at which they are loaded.” Prior policy allowed payment before delivering goods to the Cuban purchaser, but after shipment.

Citing Preemption, USA*Engage and NFTC File Amicus Brief in Florida Travel Act Appeal
Written by Jennifer Cummings for the Fratelli Group, Tel: (202) 822-9491
The National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) and USA*Engage today filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in support of the plaintiffs in the case of Faculty Senate of Florida International University vs. the State of Florida. The case revolves around the Florida Travel Act, a state law that inhibits academic travel from Florida to Cuba and other countries designated by the U.S. State Department as sponsors of international terrorism.

“Our support for the educators in this case stems from the NFTC’s longstanding view that federal government action preempts states on matters of foreign policy,” said NFTC President and USA*Engage Co-Chair Bill Reinsch. The arguments made in the brief refer to the landmark 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Crosby v. NFTC, which struck down a Massachusetts Burma sanctions law on constitutional grounds.

The brief was authored by Paul D. Clement, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of King & Spalding and former Solicitor General of the United States, a position he held from June 2005 until June 2008.

In the brief, the organizations highlight that federal actions including the Trading With the Enemy Act, the Cuban Democracy Act and the Cuban Assets Control Regulations preempt the Florida Travel Act, but also argue, “even beyond the preemptive effect of the existing federal statutory and regulatory regime, the Florida Travel Act represents an impermissible effort by Florida to adopt its own distinct foreign policy.”

“The Constitution leaves little doubt as to which level of government was to address issues of ingress and egress with respect to our national borders,” reads the NFTC brief. “While states have the authority to adopt policies with incidental effects on foreign travel, there is nothing indirect or incidental about the Florida Travel Ban. It is an avowed effort to do the federal government one better when it comes to travel to state sponsors of terrorism. Under the constitutional scheme, Florida’s rejection of the national policy is plainly impermissible.”

The NFTC also argue that though the Florida Travel Act was intended to address Cuba-related foreign policy concerns, the Act has a broader, more intrusive impact, as it applies to all state sponsors of terrorism, who are subject to varying federal regulatory and legal regimes.

Business Community Calls for New Cuba Policy
Written by Jennifer Cummings and Eric Thomas, The Fratelli Group for NFTC, Tel: (202) 822-9491
Thursday, 04 December 2008
Urges President-elect Obama to ‘Immediately Remove Travel Restrictions’ and Allow American Companies to Help Cuba Rebuild from Storms

Washington, DC – The National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) and USA*Engage, along with ten other leading trade associations today sent a letter to President-elect Barack Obama, urging the incoming administration to reexamine current U.S. Cuba policy and consider new approaches that would benefit U.S. national security and economic interests and the Cuban people.

The associations, which include the American Farm Bureau Federation, Business Roundtable, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, applauded President-elect Obama’s support for suspending restrictions on family remittances, visits, and humanitarian care packages from Cuban Americans, and noted that while “these are excellent first steps…we urge you to also commit to a more comprehensive examination of U.S. policy.”

“Your administration has a unique opportunity to take steps to end nearly 50 years of isolation from Cuba and the Cuban people. We support the complete removal of all trade and travel restrictions on Cuba. We recognize that change may not come all at once, but it must start somewhere, and it must begin soon,” they wrote.

In addition to calling for a comprehensive reevaluation of policy, the associations urged President-elect Obama to “immediately remove travel restrictions and allow Americans to act as ambassadors of freedom and American values to Cuba,” and to engage in bilateral discussions with Cuban government.

The groups also asked President-elect Obama to suspend certain restrictions on trade that would allow American companies to help Cuba to respond more effectively to the humanitarian crisis in the wake of recent hurricanes and storms in Cuba. They wrote that, “the United States could exempt agricultural machinery, heavy equipment and other exports from the embargo which would provide the goods and technology needed to rebuild from recent storms. The United States could also license direct banking services in order to facilitate these sales.”

“There is an opportunity to change policy which would open a new market for American businesses and help to demonstrate a new approach to foreign policy,” said Jake Colvin, Vice President for Global Trade Issues at the National Foreign Trade Council. “Helping Cuba rebuild from the storms could be a novel way for American companies to help reach out to the Cuban people.”

In the letter, the groups note that the U.S. embargo against Cuba is ineffective because it is unilateral. “Without the support of our allies and the larger international community, U.S. sanctions serve only to remove the positive influences that American businesses, workers, religious groups, students and tourists have in promoting U.S. values and human rights. Sanctions are also blunt instruments that generally harm the poorest people of the target country rather than that country’s leaders. There is no better example of the ineffectiveness of unilateral sanctions than in the case of Cuba.”

The associations highlighted the cost to American businesses and workers, citing a 2001 U.S. International Trade Commission estimate that showed the Cuban embargo costs U.S. businesses up to $1.2 billion annually in lost sales. “The real cost, however, is the influence that the United States has lost by voluntarily isolating itself from Cuba during an important moment of transition. Far from providing leverage, U.S. policies threaten to make the United States virtually irrelevant to the future of Cuba,” they wrote.

“Continuation of the status quo,” they concluded, “could leave the United States isolated from the Cuban people for another generation.”

In addition to the NFTC and USA*Engage, the letter was signed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Society of Travel Agents, Business Roundtable, the Coalition for Employment through Exports, the Emergency Committee for American Trade, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Retail Federation, the Organization for International Investment, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Council for International Business.

"For the first time in years, American companies are paying attention to Cuba,” said Colvin. “They may not expect dramatic changes in policy immediately, but they want to be well-positioned for the future.”

New Report Cites Political and Foreign Policy Benefits of Changing the U.S. Approach to Cuba
A report released today calls for President-elect Barack Obama and Congress to signal a new direction in the foreign policy of the United States by changing policy towards Cuba. “The Case for a New Cuba Policy,” written by Jake Colvin, Vice President of Global Affairs for the National Foreign Trade Council and a Fellow with the New Ideas Fund, notes that, “While issues such as the global economic crisis and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will take months, years, or even decades to resolve, President-elect Obama has the opportunity to send an immediate signal of change to the world through a new approach to Cuba policy.”

The report highlights a national security benefit from changing policy, observing that the Bush administration has increased the burden on key government agencies responsible for keeping the United States safe from terrorism through its directives related to the Cuba sanctions program. Reversing those policies, and establishing risk-based priorities for allocating scarce resources, would allow the U.S. government to refocus its attention on the most serious threats to national security.

Colvin also suggests there is a changing political landscape that makes a different approach to Cuba “an increasingly smart political strategy,” given the attitudes of new Cuban American voters as well as the growing number of non-Cuban Hispanic voters in Florida.

"This paper provides a roadmap for the Obama Administration to fundamentally reform the United States’ failed policy of isolating Cuba. Jake makes a compelling case that engaging Cuba will provide humanitarian, economic and security benefits and will demonstrate to the international community that President Obama is committed to a policy of constructive engagement," said Cal Dooley, a former Member of Congress from California.

The report draws on the advice of numerous former senior U.S. government officials with responsibility for Cuba as well as other foreign and economic policies. James Dobbins, Senior Director for Inter-American Affairs, National Security Council, 1996–1999, says in the report that, “Cuba policy is long past due for substantial revision, and domestically there is waning support. Flooding Cuba with American tourists, journalists, and culture is the fastest way to promote change. I’d almost completely reverse current policy.”

Other former officials who advocate substantial changes to U.S. Cuba policy include former Senior Director for Inter-American Affairs at National Security Council Arturo Valenzuela; former Assistant Secretaries of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Jeffrey Davidow, Peter Romero and Alexander Watson; and former U.S. Ambassadors to the United Nations Thomas Pickering and Nancy Soderberg.

While suggesting that the United States should normalize relations with Cuba over the long term, Colvin acknowledges the relationship with Cuba “is too complex and not urgent enough to commit the kind of time and energy that would be required for full and immediate normalization.” Incremental steps to loosen restrictions and alter the United States’ diplomatic approach, he says, would still send a clear message of change to the hemisphere and the world.

The report recommends that President-elect Obama reverse President Bush’s initiatives on Cuba policy in the context of the transition team’s review of existing regulations. Specifically, President-elect Obama could immediately remove restrictions on the ability of Cuban Americans to travel and send financial support to family in Cuba; rescind the Bush administration’s counterproductive limits on people-to-people travel and trade; rely on general licenses for travel to Cuba and instruct the Treasury Department to redeploy resources internally to focus on more urgent priorities; and abolish the Office of Transition Coordinator and the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which obstruct direct diplomacy with Cuba and disrupt relations with U.S. allies.

“An overhaul of American policy toward Cuba is long overdue. That is the case Jake Colvin makes here in a cogent and compelling fashion,” said Jim Kolbe, former Member of Congress from Arizona. “Moreover, he suggests how those changes can be made by a new President and the Congress, starting with the easing of trade and travel restrictions. Policy makers would do well to heed the recommendations made here.

Colvin also offers a series of initiatives the President and Congress should undertake over the longer term. They include returning the responsibility for Cuba policy to the State Department bureaucracy; engaging Cuba diplomatically through regular, lower-level contacts; finding ways to work with U.S. allies to support human rights, civil society and economic development in Cuba; ending the travel ban; and promoting cultural exchanges and dialogue with the Cuban people. Finally, he notes that both sides will need to address broader impediments to normal relations, including the Cuba Adjustment Act, Cuba’s place on the State Department’s list of countries that sponsor terrorism, property claims, trademark issues, and the status of the Guantanamo Bay naval base.

The report attempts to dispel the notion that the executive branch’s hands are tied when it comes to changing policy. Drawing on advice from former officials from the U.S. Treasury Department who were responsible for sanctions policy it concludes that, “In spite of the layers of U.S. laws and regulations on Cuba, and the mistaken belief among many that meaningful policy changes require an act of Congress, the president retains wide discretion to modify the rules…through its licensing authority in the Cuba Assets Control Regulations. The idea that Congress has limited the president through legislation such as Helms-Burton is largely a myth.”

"There is a real opportunity for the next President to make bold changes to Cuba policy," according to Peter Romero, a former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs under President Clinton. Romero added, "Jake's paper makes an excellent argument as to why the Obama administration should pay attention to Cuba policy and suggests a useful – and politically-feasible – path forward."

The report was underwritten by the New Ideas Fund, a progressive organization which seeks new approaches and paradigms for U.S. national security and foreign policies.

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