Tuesday, January 10, 2006

VIEWPOINTS: Cuba Trade Agreement Historic Victory for Maine

Tuesday, January 10, 2006 - Bangor Daily News

Having recently returned from a successful trade mission to Cuba, I was surprised to hear criticism directed toward Gov. Baldacci for leading the official visit. As a businessman, I appreciate the efforts of the governor to expand opportunities for family-owned companies such as my own. Trade with Cuba should not be a political issue; it is about expanding economic opportunities for Maine families.

As someone who has traveled to Cuba previously to pursue trade with that country, I know that Gov. Baldacci's commitment to this venture has been instrumental in securing the $20 million in negotiated agreements. Last year a similar mission returned with an initial agreement worth $10 million. Maine Department of Agriculture Commissioner Robert Spear brought the weight of the state to that effort.

The 2005 mission doubled the commitment in goods to be purchased by Cuba.

Boosting the Maine forest products and agricultural industry, this $20 million will help Maine families and small business across the state. It is an investment in Maine's economic future. Our natural resource based industries get a significant boost, and the money circulates throughout our communities paying wages and buying goods and services.

The business delegation that traveled to Cuba went there because Maine needs to compete internationally in this new global economy. Make no mistake, the governor made this trip because he knows that Maine is competing not only with other states for these contracts but many countries as well. Thirty-seven other states are currently trading with Cuba. While we were in Cuba, Virginia, Oklahoma, Florida and Wisconsin were also working to secure agreements for businesses in their states.

Maine and other states have been allowed limited trade opportunities with Cuba because of an act passed by Congress in 2000. The exemption was proposed by a Republican, and supported by a majority of Democrats and Republicans. The embargo was lifted for products that improve the health of everyday Cuban citizens. Cuban citizens gain food and necessary supplies and Maine's agricultural sector gains needed money.

I sat in on the meeting between Gov. Baldacci and President Fidel Castro and I can honestly tell you that only business (no politics) was discussed. We have an incredible business opportunity before us, and I hope that all in Maine appreciate the leadership Gov. Baldacci has given to this and other efforts to expand trade and, thus the economy of Maine.

Gov. Baldacci's trade agreement with Cuba is a victory for Maine; a victory for our farmers and woodsmen and a victory for working families.

Jim Robbins is president of Robbins Lumber Inc. in Searsmont.

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