U.S.-Cuba Business Council’s Financial Services Forum

Friday, September 9, 2016 - 1:30pm

Remarks by
Vice President, Americas, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
President, U.S.-Cuba Business Council
As prepared for delivery

September, 9, 2016
New York City, New York

Good afternoon everyone.  I’m Jodi Hanson Bond, Vice President for the Americas at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation.

In my capacity at the Chamber, I also serve as President of the U.S.-Cuba Business Council, the premier business advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening the economic and commercial relationship between the United States and Cuba.

It’s my great privilege to welcome you all to the USCBC’s First Financial Services Forum.

Let me start by welcoming our distinguished guests from Cuba, Vice Minister Nunez, my dear friend Irma from the Central Bank, Amb. Cabañas and the entire Cuban delegation.

I’d also like to recognize our many friends from across the U.S. government that have joined us, especially Mark Feierstein, Special Assistant to the President & National Security Advisor for the Western Hemisphere.

And finally, I want to recognize the many members present here from the USCBC, including our Chairman, Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, and our sponsor for today’s lunch, John Rice, the Vice Chairman of GE.

Without all of you, today’s historic event would not have been possible.

Many of the individuals in the room here today, including the government officials from Cuba and United States, participated earlier today in a U.S.-Cuba Financial Services Workshop.

A workshop, much like today’s luncheon, that sought to begin to address the challenges our member companies in the financial services sector have identified in understanding the evolving U.S. regulatory environment, the operations of the Cuban banking system, and the vital role that this sector plays in advancing the bilateral relationship.

Chamber Leadership in Expanding Ties

However, before I dive into that space specifically, let me start by noting that this event has been something the Chamber has been working on for quite some time.

In fact, the U.S. Chamber has long sought a commercial relationship between the United States and Cuba that would have the power to bridge differences.

The U.S. Chamber’s President & CEO, Tom Donohue, first visited Havana in the late 1990's and highlighted the Chamber's opposition to the unilateral sanctions at that time.

As Tom said then, and we have reiterated ever since, U.S. isolationist policy towards Cuba has not worked. Cuba has not been isolated from the world, just from Americans and from the U.S. business community. 

The Chamber’s long-standing support for normalized U.S.-Cuba relations has given us the opportunity to build key relationships with Cuban government officials, establish trust and credibility, and advocate for needed democratic and economic reforms.

And what is truly indisputable, as evidence by those in this room here today, is that sweeping changes have occurred over the past 20 months.

But what is also clear is that, in spite of all of these constructive changes, much important work remains to be done.

And it will take the sustained efforts of all stakeholders to ensure that this historic opportunity is seized rather than squandered.

The U.S.-Cuba Business Council

That is why the U.S. Chamber launched the U.S.-Cuba Business Council last year.

It is why the Council has led numerous business delegations to Cuba

And hosted dozens of policy roundtable conversations with U.S. government officials.

And welcomed two Cuban ministers to the Chamber’s headquarters in Washington DC for the first time in over 50 years.

And led dozens of door-knock meetings on the Hill to explain the importance of removing U.S. sanctions on Cuba. 

And that is why we have put together this U.S.-Cuba Financial Services Forum.

The goal of this Forum, as I previously mentioned, is much like that of the Council’s: to build a strategic commercial partnership, encourage greater reform in Cuba, and ultimately create a more robust bilateral trade and investment relationship.

This USCBC strives to help businesses and entrepreneurs on both sides recognize and pursue new opportunities in one another’s markets.

We believe engagement with Cuba—and the promotion of free enterprise principles—will play a positive role in helping all Cubans not only prosper economically, but gain essential freedoms and rights.

USCBC Policy Agenda

As investors that create jobs and opportunities in markets around the world, USCBC members have a critical stake in the Cuba-U.S. economic partnership and are advocating for further reforms.

We are working together with both governments to shape policy priorities and share best practices designed to make the United States and Cuba more competitive in the global marketplace.

Included in that list of priorities is creating the availability of credit and capital for business establishment and expansion in the bilateral space.

U.S.-Cuba Financial Services Forum

And beyond getting to know each other for the first time, addressing that issue was the reason behind today’s workshop.

Not only from the perspective of better understanding the Cuban financial system, but to create a space for the current U.S. administration—which has taken unprecedented steps to authorize U.S. institutions to facilitate transactions and provide financing for exports and re-exports—to explain the new political and regulatory environment to the companies.

I understand that this Forum is only the first time we have had the U.S. government come in a holistic manner to speak about these changes to the financial services industry writ large and it is my hope that it will be the first of many.

In fact, as Secretary Gutierrez has previously mentioned, while there have been a couple of U-Turn transactions executed to-date, as well as the launching of debit and credit cards for use in Cuba—which should most certainly be applauded—there are many more unfortunate incidences that have occurred despite the regulatory changes, including:

  • Bank accounts being frozen for the phrase Cuba being in the description;
  • Banks ceasing service to consulates due to regulatory uncertainty;
  • The closing of checking accounts of individuals simply because of travel to Cuba, despite the travel being legal and authorized; and
  • The blocking of corporate accounts for doing legal business with authorized Cuban entities, among many others unfortunate events.

The key challenge in this case is that, though the reforms are now enabling numerous transactions to be executed successfully, it is the failures that garner the headlines and, in turn, increase uncertainty in a U.S. private sector already hesitant to fully leverage the new opportunities the reforms have afforded.

And on the Cuban side, much more must be done to create greater transparency as it related to the Cuban banking system so that U.S. financial institutions have greater clarity as to who their counterparts are and where capital is ending up.

We began to address these issue today, but it is our hope that these issues will continue to be addressed through the bilateral regulatory dialogue, the upcoming commercial dialogue, and through sustained engagement with the private sector.

2016 and Road Ahead

And it is that engagement that we are committed to ensuring to continue over the coming days, months, and years.

It is my pleasure to now invite you to enjoy your meals.

Buen provecho!