Cleveland Extends an Economic Olive Branch to Cuba

In the midst of escalating diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Cuba, the city of Cleveland is trying to build business ties with the island nation.

In Havana last Friday, representatives from the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority signed a non-binding "memorandum of understanding" with the country's maritime authority aimed at laying the groundwork for potential future trade. 

"The money is starting to flow down there," said Darrell McNair, chairman of the Port Authority. "You don't want to be last to the party in a situation like this." In recent years, ports in other statesincluding Virginia, Alabama, Texas, and Louisianahave reached similar agreements. Cleveland, he said, is the first northern port city to do so.

Although the agreement is not a guarantee that Cuba will do business with the Port of Cleveland, McNair said it puts the city in an advantageous position" if the U.S. ever lifts its embargo on Cuban trade.

"I think it's unlikely given the current political environment," said Gustavo Arnavat, Senior Advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba have flared in recent weeks, with the U.S. State Department accusing the Cuban government of failing to protect U.S. diplomats from a series of mysterious "health attacks." And in June, President Trump tightened restrictions on Cuba that President Obama had previously loosened.

On the other hand, Arnavat said there is as slight possibility that relations could thaw under Trump. "The President is a 'dealmaker,'" said Arnavat. "If the Cubans come to the president with the right deal, the president may in fact turn around and encourage the Congress to get rid of the embargo."

If that day ever comes, said McNair, cities that have made efforts to establish a relationship with Cuba will have an advantage.

"You just don't wake and decide to do business with this country and expect it to happen overnight," he said. Before the signing of the memorandum of understanding last week, he said, the Port Authority had been in talks with Cuban economic officials for over a year.

Despite the current diplomatic friction, McNair was upbeat about prospects for warming U.S-Cuba relations. "We're not politicians," he said. "We do believe there will be an opening in the trade relationship."

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Port of Cleveland signs memo of understanding with Cuba's maritime administration

HAVANA - The port authority of Cleveland, Ohio, and Cuba's maritime administration have signed a memo of understanding. 

This is the first event of its kind since the U.S. decided to pull its diplomats from their embassy in Havana after the diplomats suffered symptoms they say are related to some sort of attacks. 

The U.S. also told Cuba this week to pull 15 of its diplomats from their Washington, D.C., embassy.

According to Reuters, part of that group includes Cubans who were dealing with U.S. businesses, which may lead to more setbacks in U.S.-Cuba relations.  

"Our job is not to try and interpret what our government has to say," Darrell McNail, with the Port of Cleveland, said. "We do feel that the trade relationship will develop over time, if not today, maybe tomorrow."

Cuba already has similar agreements with ports in Virginia, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas. 

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JAMPRO hosts inward trade mission from Cuba as Agency seeks to boost export to Caribbean region

Following its Caribbean Market Mission initiative to boost regional export, Jamaica’s trade and investment promotions agency, JAMPRO, is this week hosting a Cuban delegation representing 10 organisations for a week-long trade mission from July 17-to 21, 2017.

The trade mission, a result of JAMPRO’s Cuban market development programme, will have representatives from Cuban State Agencies such as the National Bank of Cuba, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, Ministry of Domestic Trade, the Chamber of Commerce of Cuba, and key enterprises like QUIMIMPORT (chemicals), CORALSA (food), QUIMIMPEX (exports and imports), CUBASOL S.A. and IMECO (construction).  CUBASOL S.A.  is an entrepreneurial group composed of important agencies and enterprises related to the Tourism industry.  Jamaican companies will get the opportunity to promote their products for export to Cuba through factory visits organized by JAMPRO, as well as meetings with the Cuban companies to initiate negotiations for the sale of locally manufactured products. The Cuban representatives will tour Jamaican companies, to understand the country’s capacity for manufacturing to meet the demand of the Cuban market, with a population of 11 Million.  The delegation will also meet with Jamaican government counterparts to discuss improving the exporting process to Cuba. The mission will end with the “Doing Business with Cuba” seminar hosted by JAMPRO to provide companies with the knowledge necessary to do business in the country. A highlight of the seminar is a presentation on the CARICOM-Cuba trade agreement.

Having targeted the Cuban market through our many missions there, especially to FIHAV, The Havana International Fair, and hospitality trade fair HostelCuba, we needed to take the next step to cement the relationships we had initiated and concretise the demand we had identified,” said Diane Edwards, President of JAMPRO.

Vice President of Export and Market Development at JAMPRO Robert Scott added that the inward trade visit represents a leap forward for Jamaican companies, and suggests that Jamaica is now on the radar of the Cuban buying authorities. VP Scott said, “Success in the Cuban market requires persistent interactions over several years to encourage relationship building and knowledge of what is needed in that market. This mission is a breakthrough as it means our companies now have the opportunity to build relationships with key Cuban business organisations and buyers in the Jamaican space. For those who are already in contact with Cuba, they can now showcase the professionalism of their operations and convince the delegation of their ability to supply consistently high quality. We are excited about the possibilities for this mission, and we are pleased to receive support from the Embassy of Cuba in Jamaica and our embassy in Cuba. They have proactively encouraged business and dialogue between Jamaica and Cuba.”

According to His Excellency Bernardo Guanche Hernández, Cuba’s Ambassador to Jamaica, the mission is part of a continuous effort to build trade between Jamaica and Cuba and encourage knowledge sharing between both countries. He explained, “Thanks to the efficient and gracious work by JAMPRO, the Cuban delegation will visit Jamaica to fulfil an extensive agenda. The visit is part of the efforts carried out by both countries to increase trade and businesses in concordance with the excellent level of bilateral relations between Cuba and Jamaica. 

This trade mission gives continuity to the visit by Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment of Cuba (MINCEX), Ileana Nunez Mordoche, in May 2016, as part of a tour to the Caribbean, signaling the commitment we have made to boost trade. I am pleased to say that we believe we’re making significant headway in this effort, and I look forward to the outcomes of the mission to Jamaica.

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Russia-US relations are at their worst since Cold War – Moscow

Relations between Russia and the United States are at their worst since the Cold War, a Russian Foreign Ministry official has said, placing the blame on the Obama administration.

“The current state of relations between Russia and the United States, as we all know, to put it mildly, leaves much to be desired. It is no exaggeration to say that our relations today are, in fact, at their worst for the whole period after the Cold War,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on Tuesday in the State Duma.

The foundation of cooperation that had been gradually created over the course of many years was almost completely destroyed in a short period of time by the previous US administration,” the minister noted, claiming that former US President Barack Obama and his entourage “began to turn towards a strain, and then a confrontation with us long before the Ukrainian crisis.”

“A variety of pressure tools have been used against Russia… in December 2012, Washington adopted the odious Magnitsky act, launched a permanent hunt for our citizens across the world, as in the case of Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, tried to discredit the Olympics in Sochi,” Ryabkov said, noting that after the coup in Kiev in 2014 “the rate of all-out landslide degradation of our relations accelerated sharply.” 

Ryabkov said that the Obama administration acted without common sense both in the run-up to the US election and afterwards, further fueling anti-Russian sentiment.

Just beyond understanding and common sense was what happened before and after the presidential election in the United States… In the wake of slanderous accusations that Russia interfered in the election process, the Obama administration caused Russophobic hysteria,” the minister said.

READ MORE: US eases some restrictions on dealing with Russian Intel, but says 'no shift of policy'

He added that opponents of US President Donald Trump continue to fuel Russophobia in an attempt to discredit the new head of state, who has on a number of occasions expressed a friendlier attitude towards Russia. 

The new president of the United States was immediately faced with a well-established anti-Russian attitude among the Washington elite, shared, in fact, by all the functioning cogs of the American political class. Trump’s opponents continue to fuel Russophobia as one of the central elements to their massive campaign aimed at discrediting the new US administration,” Ryabkov stated.

This strategy, he said, may lead to a further worsening of relations, but Moscow will wait for Trump to settle in before making any definitive conclusions.

It is obvious that to some extent the US-Russia relationship may fall victim to these malicious efforts. We understand this and currently work to minimize the possible damage in this regard… We do not dramatize the situation. We understand that Trump and his appointees need time to fine-tune the foreign policy and specify their priorities,” Ryabkov said.

Among Washington’s tools for putting pressure on Russia are sanctions. In 2014, when a coup in Kiev resulted in the Ukrainian region of Crimea voting to become part of Russia, and conflict emerged between Kiev and eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region, the US began imposing sanctions on Russia, with 172 Russian citizens and 350 different entities blacklisted to date, including flagship Russian banks.

Trump has said on several occasions that lifting the sanctions is possible, yet according to Ryabkov, the issue has not yet been discussed with the new administration.

“I once again… declare that in contacts with the Americans, we have not discussed and will not discuss the criteria for lifting sanctions. If we talk about sanctions, because of which, trade with the United States sank by almost a third from $29 billion in 2014 to less than $20 billion last year, we never asked for them to be cancelled and are not going to do it.”

Ryabkov stated that despite the current state of affairs, Moscow hopes to establish constructive cooperation with Washington.

I would like to believe that the change in Washington will create a door of opportunity to improve the situation in the dialogue between our countries… We are open to constructive cooperation with the US,” the minister said, stressing that this dialogue should be built on the basis of equality and “without attempts to blackmail.”

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Trump's Cabinet Welcomes Another Billionaire: Wilbur Ross

Ross is the latest confirmation of Trump's cabinet picks, estimated to have a collective worth of US$13 billion.

The senate confirmed billionaire investor Wilbur Ross as secretary of commerce in a 72 to 27 vote less contentious than some other cabinet approvals.

RELATED: Trump Blasts 'Fake News,' Bad Trade Deals in CPAC Speech

Ross, chosen by U.S. President Donald Trump to help implement the president-elect's trade agenda, earned his fortune in part by running businesses that have offshored thousands of U.S. jobs, according to Labor Department data attained by Reuters.

In his confirmation hearing, the 79-year-old singled out the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, as a priority.

"NAFTA is logically is the first thing for us to deal with," Ross said at the hearing. "We ought to solidify relationships in the best way we can in our territory before we go off to other jurisdictions. That should be, and hopefully will be if I'm confirmed, a very early topic in this administration."

Trump has repeatedly made protectionist threats and threatened to kill NAFTA – signed by Mexico, the United States and Canada in the early '90s and called one of the worst trade deals ever by Trump.

As a high-stakes investor a decade ago, Ross specialized in turning around troubled manufacturing companies at a time when the U.S. economy was losing more than 100,000 jobs yearly due to global trade.

Supporters say Ross saved thousands of U.S. jobs by rescuing firms from failure. Data attained by Reuters through a Freedom of Information Act request shows that rescue effort came at a price: textile, finance and auto-parts companies controlled by the private-equity titan eliminated about 2,700 U.S. positions since 2004 because they shipped production to other countries, according to a Labor Department program that assists workers who lose their jobs due to global trade.

The figures, which have not previously been disclosed, amount to a small fraction of the U.S. economy, which sees employment fluctuate by the tens of thousands of jobs each month.

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Putin Plans Asian Tour with Trade and Political Agenda

Moscow, Feb 24 (Prensa Latina) Russian president, Vladimir Putin, will start Asian tour next Monday to Tadzhikistan, Kirguiztan and Kazakhstan with an economic and political agenda in bilateral talks, reported the Kremlin.

Putin will start tour in Dushambe, where he will discuss with his tadzhik peer, Emomali Rajmon, the strengthening of strategic cooperation, stop the reduction of trade and labour migration, indicated the presidential press service.

Twenty-seven percent of the economic activity of Tadzhikistan is related with Russia, largest foreign investor, in particjlar the Enterprise RAO EEC, with 500 million dollars in the construction of the hydroelectric plant of Sangtudinsk.

Both parts will look for solutions to reinforce trade after 2016 when it contracted by 15.5 percent, to total 688 million dollars.

Labour migration, with 870 thousand Tadzhiks in Russia, will be another issue to debate in the official talks. From that migration Tadzhikistan receives remittances for 1.9 billion dollars, one third of the Gross Domestic Product of the Asian country.

Another topic will be the permanence of base 201 of the Russian Armed Forces in Tadzhikistan.

Putin will then go to Kirguiztan, where he will analyze with his peer, Almazbek Atambayev, the economic cooperation after a reduction of the commercial exchange by 13 percent and the Kirguiz exports to Russia by 138 points.

From 2012 to 2016, Russia gave financial support to Kirguizstan for 225 million dollars, highlights the Kremlin's communique, to which Prensa Latina had access.

There is a development operating between both nations, to which Moscow has contributed 500 million dollars.

The same as Tadzhikistan, Kirguiztan will analyze with Russia the cooperation in the sphere of labour migration, as in this nation and Kazakhstan live 620 thousand Kirguiz citizens.

Putin's tour will conclude next Wednesday in Kazakhstan, second country after Belarus in the post-Soviet era with which Russia has the largest trade output. In 2016, it reached 13 billion dollars, despite dropping by 16.3 percent, compared to 2015.

The drop in oil prices and fluctuation of the currencies of the mentioned countries, impacted the volume of trade.

Russia and Kazakhstan, besides the energy sector and the aerospatial branch (rent of the Baikonur cosmodrome) , they cooperate in manufacturing the new helicopter KA-226T.

Also, Astana served as see of two rounds of talks sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran, among leaders of armed groups and the Syrian government.

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Former Uruguayan President Mujica Warns of Trade Wars

Mujica was called "the world's poorest president" by his followers.

Former President Jose "Pepe" Mujica, who governed Uruguay from 2010 to 2015, warned Monday of the possibility of global trade wars erupting.

"The Uruguayan government must deal with an international situation full of uncertainties, and we don't know whether this situation will lead to a trade war. Hopefully not, but it's a latent danger," Mujica said after a meeting of his Broad Front coalition.

The 81-year-old former president of Uruguay, who has been involved in politics his whole life, has previously said he thinks U.S. President Donald Trump has “powerful enemies” and won't be around for long.

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Wilbur Ross, Trump's Commerce pick, offshored 2,700 jobs since 2004

Billionaire Wilbur Ross, chosen by Donald Trump to help implement the president-elect's trade agenda, earned his fortune in part by running businesses that have offshored thousands of U.S. jobs, according to Labor Department data attained by Reuters.

As a high-stakes investor a decade ago, Ross specialized in turning around troubled manufacturing companies at a time when the U.S. economy was losing more than 100,000 jobs yearly due to global trade. A Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination to become commerce secretary is set for Wednesday.

Supporters say Ross saved thousands of U.S. jobs by rescuing firms from failure. Data attained by Reuters through a Freedom of Information Act request shows that rescue effort came at a price: textile, finance and auto-parts companies controlled by the private-equity titan eliminated about 2,700 U.S. positions since 2004 because they shipped production to other countries, according to a Labor Department program that assists workers who lose their jobs due to global trade. [For a graphic click tmsnrt.rs/2iYIJWa]

The figures, which have not previously been disclosed, amount to a small fraction of the U.S. economy, which sees employment fluctuate by the tens of thousands of jobs each month. But Ross's track record clashes with Trump's promise to protect American workers from the ravages of global trade.

Recently, Trump claimed credit for saving 800 jobs at a Carrier Corp. factory in Indiana, even touring the plant to shake hands with employees. He has targeted Ford Motor Co (F.N) and other automakers to keep hundreds of jobs inside the U.S. borders.

That disconnect could draw attention at his hearing, one of many scheduled this week for Cabinet nominees ahead of Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration.

"He is not the man to be protecting American workers when he's shipping this stuff overseas himself," said Don Coy, who lost his job at the end of 2016 when a company Ross created - International Automotive Components Group - closed a factory in Canton, Ohio and shifted production of rubber floor mats to Mexico, eliminating the final 16 jobs in a factory that once employed 450 workers.

Ross resigned from the IAC board of directors in November 2014 and was named chairman emeritus.

Ross did not respond to several requests for comment. His offshoring activities are not unusual in an era when globalization has lowered international trade barriers. Auto-parts maker Delphi Corp., for example, has offshored 11,700 U.S. jobs since 2004, while textile makers have offshored at least 17,000 jobs since then, the Labor Department said.

As IAC shuttered its Canton plant in the final months of 2016, Ross argued on behalf of Trump that free-trade agreements hurt the United States.

"When Ford offshores new production facilities to Mexico, that both boosts the Mexican economy and reduces investment in this country," he wrote in September in a Washington Post opinion piece penned with Peter Navarro, another Trump economic adviser who has been tapped to direct a White House trade council.

In a bid to reverse offshoring, Trump has threatened to impose "a big border tax" on automakers that choose to build cars in Mexico rather than the United States and has talked of resetting free-trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

A Trump transition spokesperson said personnel decisions at Ross's auto-parts and textile companies were driven by the need to put operations near customers and keep U.S. plants competitive, echoing arguments made by other auto industry executives who face pressure from Trump.

"Few people have done as much to defend American jobs and negotiate good deals for American workers as Wilbur Ross," said the spokesperson, who asked not to be named.

The offshoring figures for Ross's companies came from the Labor Department's Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which provides retraining benefits to some workers who lose their jobs due to outsourcing or cheap imports. The program does not cover everybody who is hurt by global trade: service-sector workers were not eligible until 2009, and those who don't apply for the program don't show up in its records.

Only 1.6 million factory workers qualified for TAA benefits between 2001 and 2010, a time when the United States shed 6 million manufacturing jobs.

Despite Trump's campaign rhetoric about countries like Mexico and China taking U.S. jobs, the TAA figures show globalization has claimed fewer jobs in recent years. The program covered roughly 80,000 workers last year, down from about 340,000 in 2009. [For a graphic, click tmsnrt.rs/2iYGJgR]

CUTTING JOBS TO SAVE OTHERS

Ross amassed a fortune, estimated by Forbes magazine at $2.5 billion, by buying up companies in struggling industries and returning them to profitability. Labor leaders such as United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard have said that Ross over the years saved thousands of manufacturing jobs.

In one case, Ross bought two struggling North Carolina fabric makers out of bankruptcy to create International Textile Group (ITG) in 2004, as textile import quotas were being phased out. Between 2005 and 2011, the company laid off 1,268 U.S. workers as it set up operations in Mexico, China and Nicaragua, TAA records show. ITG CEO Ken Kunenberger told Reuters that those job reductions were primarily due to competition from cheap imports.

ITG now operates six U.S. plants, down from nine in 2007, according to its annual reports. Ross sold the company in October for an undisclosed sum.

Ross also created International Automotive Components Group in 2007 to buy up auto-parts makers around the world as the industry struggled with overcapacity and slowing sales. TAA filings show IAC eliminated 853 U.S. jobs because it shifted work from the United States to Mexico.

"We tried every trick in the book to get them to stay but they just weren't interested," said Tim Scott, who served on the city council in Carlisle, Pennsylvania when IAC decided to close its plant there in 2009, shifting work to Mexico and Tennessee.

An IAC spokesperson said the company has expanded in Mexico to be near the automakers that buy its parts, a common business strategy in the sector.

IAC has expanded its workforce in Mexico and Canada by 42 percent to 8,500 since 2008, and by 10 percent in the United States to 11,000 over the same period, spokesman David Ladd said.

In another venture, Ross combined several mortgage lenders into Homeward Residential Holdings Inc. in 2007, just as the housing market was collapsing.

Homeward laid off 596 employees in Florida and Texas and shifted their work to India in 2012, according to TAA filings. That was a sizeable portion of the company's global workforce, which it pegged at 2,800 a few months after the layoffs were announced.

Ross sold Homeward in October 2012 for $750 million, which delivered a further return on top of $900 million in profits the company had already generated.

"Homeward has been profitable in each year of its existence," he said in a press release

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