Make us your home page
Instagram

Cuba wants access to Orlando market through Port Tampa Bay

Port Tampa Bay bought two gantry cranes for $24 million to help it market itself as a gateway to Central Florida. The cranes will help grow the port’s cargo container business.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

Port Tampa Bay bought two gantry cranes for $24 million to help it market itself as a gateway to Central Florida. The cranes will help grow the port’s cargo container business.

TAMPA — Mickey Mouse might have as much of an impact on Tampa-Cuba relations as José Martí.

Before the embargo against the island-nation, Tampa and Cuba were major trading partners. Tampa primarily sent cattle and got tobacco.

Local leaders who favor normalizing relations are now pushing for a renewed trade relationship with Cuba. And they believe Port Tampa Bay has an edge over competing U.S. ports because of a century-old connection between Tampa and Cuba that includes the use of Ybor City by freedom fighter José Martí as a staging ground during his War of Independence against Spain in the 1890s.

Port Tampa Bay is indeed a preferred partner for Cuba's Port of Mariel, according to a statement to the Tampa Bay Times by TC Mariel, the company that runs the container shipment operation there.

But access to Orlando is the reason, not any shared history, according to the statement, forwarded to the Times by TC Mariel's managing director Charles Baker.

Orlando is coveted because it is a destination for tourists and home to many regional distribution hubs for inbound cargo that would prefer their containers land in nearby Tampa rather than Miami.

Even as the embargo endures, according to the TC Mariel statement, the Port of Mariel and Port Tampa Bay still can prosper from a relationship if Congress or the president repeals a separate federal rule — one prohibiting ships from any country that dock in Cuba from docking in the United States within 180 days.

Direct trade with Cuba would still be forbidden in the United States because of the embargo, but a repeal of the 180-day rule might allow other nations to send cargo to Tampa through Cuba.

That echoes what Baker recently told the U.S.-based global trade publication, the Journal of Commerce.

"If you allow transshipment to take place from Mariel to U.S. ports, you could open up service to Tampa, which is the closest port to Orlando," Baker is quoted as saying.

This falls in line with efforts by Port Tampa Bay to market its facility as a gateway to Central Florida, made possible through the recent purchase of two giant gantry cranes to help grow cargo container business and by the state's construction of the Interstate 4 Crosstown Connector that moves traffic quickly from the port to Interstate 4 and on to Orlando.

"Port Tampa Bay is Cuba-ready and we are open to any legal opportunities," said Edward Miyagishima, the port's vice president of communications.

A delegation of Cuba's port leaders is expected to visit Port Tampa Bay within the next few months.

Tampa-based international public relations firm Tucker/Hall will lead a separate delegation of local maritime officials to Cuba in October to speak with maritime counterparts there.

"If Mariel picks Tampa Bay as its priority entry point to the United States, it will be transformative for our region," said Bill Carlson, the president of Tucker/Hall. "We will have access to the world's markets."

The recent widening of the Panama Canal was designed to accommodate larger sea vessels that can carry more cargo. Port Tampa Bay cannot handle these ships.

But if such ships stop in ports that can, the cargo could be loaded onto smaller boats to be taken to Tampa and then distributed throughout the region. This is called transshipment.

The Port of Mariel was built to accommodate these larger ships. It covers 180 square miles west of Havana and features factories, storage for trade and the TC Mariel terminal, which has a current annual capacity of around 800,000 containers and can be expanded to handle 3 million.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved an amendment to the 2017 financial appropriations bill to repeal the 180-day docking rule.

If the amendment fails, the 180-day rule can still be worked around, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

By order of the president, the Treasury Department can issue a general license allowing cargo ships to sail between the United States and Cuba as frequently as needed.

That's how the cruise industry is able to run regular trips from the United States to Cuba despite also being bound by the 180-day rule.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, has sponsored a bill to end the Cuban embargo.

Meantime, Castor supports repealing the 180-day rule to open transshipment between the Port of Mariel and Port Tampa Bay.

"It is time that Congress moves forward with a modern policy towards greater engagement with Cuba," Castor said, and stops imposing "outdated restrictions on Americans and our communities and choke off jobs and trade and put our ports at a disadvantage."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3394. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

Cuba wants access to Orlando market through Port Tampa Bay 09/18/16 [Last modified: Sunday, September 18, 2016 9:34pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. For Gov. Rick Scott, 'fighting' could mean vetoing entire state budget

    State Roundup

    Every day, Gov. Rick Scott is getting a lot of advice.

    The last time a Florida governor vetoed the education portion of the state budget was in 1983. Gov. Bob Graham blasted fellow Democrats for their “willing acceptance of mediocrity.”
  2. Potential new laws further curb Floridians' right to government in the Sunshine

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — From temporarily shielding the identities of murder witnesses to permanently sealing millions of criminal and arrest records, state lawmakers did more this spring than they have in all but one of the past 22 years to chip away at Floridians' constitutional guarantees to access government records and …

    The Legislature passed 17 new exemptions to the Sunshine Law, according to a tally by the First Amendment Foundation.
  3. Data breach exposes 469 Social Security numbers, thousands of concealed weapons holders

    Corporate

    Social Security numbers for up to 469 people and information about thousands of concealed weapons holders were exposed in a data breach at Florida the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The breach, which the agency believes happened about two weeks ago, occurred in an online payments system, spokesperson …

    Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam on Monday that nearly 500 people may have had their Social Security numbers obtained in a data breach in his office.
[Times file photo]

  4. Trigaux: Can Duke Energy Florida's new chief grow a business when customers use less power?

    Energy

    Let's hope Harry Sideris has a bit of Harry Houdini in him.

    Duke Energy Florida president Harry Sideris laid out his prioriities for the power company ranging from improved customer service to the use of more large-scale solar farms to provide electricity. And he acknowledged a critical challenge: People are using less electricity these days. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  5. Citigroup agrees to pay nearly $100 million fine for Mexican subsidiary

    Banking

    NEW YORK — Citigroup has agreed to pay nearly $100 million to federal authorities to settle claims that a lack of internal controls and negligence in the bank's Mexican subsidiary may have allowed customers to commit money laundering.

    Citigroup has agreed to pay nearly $100 million to federal authorities to settle claims that a lack of internal controls and negligence in the bank's Mexican subsidiary may have allowed customers to commit money laundering. 
[Associated Press file photo]