Turner, Houston business leaders seek opportunities in CubaCindy • Sep 21, 2016
Mayor Sylvester Turner's wish list for his first trade mission to the island includes securing Cuban officials' support for Houston's bid to host the 2020 World Petroleum Congress.
Joining the mayor on the three-day trip that begins Sunday will be Greater Houston Partnership president Jamey Roots and a 30 member delegation that includes representatives from government, education, economic development and even energy-services giant Halliburton in an effort to address potential partnerships with Cuba across industries.
"We want to maximize our interests," Turner said.
Winning Cuba's vote for Houston's bid to host the petroleum congress, which bills itself as the Olympics of the petroleum industry, could put the city a step closer toward landing the triennial event that Houston hasn't hosted since the 1980s. It lost out to Istanbul on its bid for 2017.
Plans for the trade mission began last year with the visit from the U.S. ambassador to Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis. Turner, whose economic development team worked with the Greater Houston Partnership to coordinate the trade mission, said he hopes to build off that visit.
The itinerary includes meetings with DeLaurentis and the Cuban ministers of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Energy and Mines, Tourism and Public Health as well as the Cuban National Institute of Sports.
Bob Pertierra, chief economic development officer for the Greater Houston Partnership said the newly formed diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Cuba opens up the island's $128 billion economy to new partners. In 2014, Cuba imported nearly $2 billion of agricultural products from the U.S. and it is estimated that shipments between Texas and Cuba will increase to $18.8 million. Exports to Cuba would have total economic impact of nearly $43 million for Texas, much of which would stay in Houston, Turner said.
Representatives from the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Texas Medical Center, Port of Houston Authority, Houston Airport System, Houston Community College System, United Airlines and several Houston-based companies including Halliburton and Siemens Corp., will accompany Turner on the trip.
The mayor noted that Cuba has a strong health-care system from which the Texas Medical Center can learn and in turn provide insights. He said the HCC system is one of the most diverse in the country and it stands to benefit from possible student exchanges.
In regard to the hotel and restaurant world, Turner sees potential financial gain for both Houston and Cuba as Houston businesses can expand their reach into Cuba and tourism into Houston is on track to expand.
"We have a strong Cuban presence right now in the city of Houston and we'll see this grow in time," Turner said.
When asked about any concerns regarding forming trade relations with a country known for human-rights violations, Turner noted that China continues to be a major U.S. trade partner despite human rights concerns. He said he hopes increased trade between the U.S. and Cuba will allow for greater transparency and help reduce human rights violations in Cuba.
Laura Murillo, CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said that the chamber recognizes that some members of the local Cuban community have differing views, but it will be participating in the trade mission to seek opportunities for Houston businesses.
"We consider ourselves a business entity with a global outreach," Murillo said.
Pertierra noted that the Houston-to-Havana flight awarded to United Airlines will depart each Saturday beginning Nov. 29 from Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Turner said that given the overwhelming interest from businesses and even city council members to join him on the Cuba trip, he expects more trade missions there in the near future.
The mayor's next trade mission will be to Mexico in November. Read Full Story Here