It was a time of many “firsts” when Mayor Turner led a 30-member delegation to Cuba last September. It was the first trade mission of the Turner administration, the first time any Houston mayor has traveled to Cuba while in office, and Houston’s first major diplomatic outreach effort in Cuba in over 50 years.
“We can’t say that Houston is a world-class city unless we are reaching out and establishing international relationships,” said Mayor Turner. “With the changes brought about by the Obama administration and the new direct flight between Houston and Cuba, there are opportunities to explore in the areas of healthcare, sports, energy, trade and the arts.”
Attracted by the long-term value of these opportunities, other members of the Houston delegation included Greater Houston Partnership Board Chair Jamey Roots, representatives from the Texas Medical Center, Houston Port Authority, Houston Airport System, Houston Community College, Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and United Airlines. Council Member Davis, Council Member Martin and Council Member Robinson also accompanied Mayor Turner, reflecting the interests of their respective constituencies.
“We want Cuba to think of Houston as its preferred partner and gateway to America,” said Greater Houston Partnership President & CEO Bob Harvey.
The potential for Houston’s trade relationship is certainly there, as exports from Texas to Cuba are expected to increase from $2 billion a year to over $18.8 billion, primarily in oil, machinery, agricultural products, iron and steel, which will serve to benefit Houston’s thriving international port.
While business opportunities are promising as long-term opportunities, there are still many developments that need to take place at the federal level before they can be realized. As the Mayor said in a later interview, “This trip was all about beginning the dialogue that will lead to bigger things down the road.”
Since the trip, Houston’s Bush Intercontinental opened its direct Houston to Havana flight, becoming one of 12 US cities with air traffic to Cuba. As a result of the trade mission, Cuban officials from the Ministry of Transport are set to engage in a reciprocal visit to Houston in late January to explore opportunities with the Port of Houston Authority.