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US brands eye Cuba

News, 18 March 2016

NEW YORK: The 54-year old US trade blockade of Cuba remains in place, but ahead of next week's visit by President Obama restrictions are being further eased and observers have noted openings for brands to establish a presence there.

The Departments of Treasury and Commerce earlier this week issued new rules as part of a series of Administration steps to expand trade with Cuba.

The key takeaway, according to Lexology, the B2B research platform, is that "opportunities for US companies to begin establishing a foothold in Cuba are increasing – if companies can find outlets for their goods and services among the Cuban private sector and/or civil society humanitarian efforts".

They will have to tread carefully, however, as the rules remain complex, with penalties in place for those parties proceeding incorrectly. That situation is unlikely to change unless and until the US Congress revokes el bloqueo.

But "this is not stopping far-sighted brands from Airbnb to American Airlines as they prepare to reap future profits in an emerging market like no other," said Lucie Greene, Worldwide Director of the Innovation Group, which has published a study, The Promise of Cuba, based on interviews with more than 40 Cubans about their lives, the economy, and opportunities.

This highlighted a media renaissance taking place, with independent youth magazines chronicling the country's underground arts and emerging commercial culture.

And central to that is "Generation Upstart", a generation aged under 30 which is defined by their entrepreneurialism, sophisticated understanding of consumer culture and determination to succeed despite restrictions on information and business activities in Cuba.

More generally, recent years have seen the emergence of a class society in Cuba as the economy has slowly opened up more to private business which now contributes around 10% of GDP. This is reflected in consumer culture, the study said, including strong awareness of US brands.

Those brands that stand to gain most in the short-term, however, are likely to be operating in the tourism sector, where, continued restrictions notwithstanding – travellers can only engage in individual educational tours – Cuba may become a vacation paradise for millennials, the study suggested.

Cruise lines are also optimistic they will gain approval to visit the island, the Miami Herald reported.

Data sourced from J Walter Thompson, Lexology, Bloomberg, Miami Herald; additional content by Warc staff