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Mississippi Could See Benefits From Cuba Connection
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Mississippi could benefit from increased relations between the U-S and Cuba. MPB’s Evelina Burnett takes a look at what impact there could be on the gulf coast if full economic trade relations between the two countries are restored in the future.

It’s 654 miles from Gulfport to Havana, as the crow flies, but Jonathan Daniels, director of the Port of Gulfport, is thinking more of the way ships sail.

"You're probably looking at a transit of two to three days," he says. "So for us, it's an extremely close market."

Daniels says "a bit" of humanitarian and food aid is already being shipped from Gulfport, with stops at other ports, to Cuba. If trade relations were restored, those existing routes could be a springboard to more business.

"We certainly have some expertise we can draw upon," he says. "But also if you look at a lot of the poultry producers that are shipping products down in to Cuba under food aid - the majority of that right now is going through the East Coast of the United States. So as we're making investments in the port to put infrastructure in place, we hope that that infrastructure ties in with their desires to use a Mississippi port. And by doing that, ultimately leads to more cargo, more cargo translates into more hours, and ultimately more jobs."

Mississippi Gulf Coast ports could see the ripple effects on shipping if the diplomatic thaw with Cuba announced this week ultimately leads to a lifting of the five-decade-old trade sanctions. Ashley Edwards is director of the Hancock County Port & Harbor Commission. He says Cuba could become a hub for the cargo coming through the Panama Canal, with large ships docking there and sending out smaller shipments to other ports.

"The question of how that's going to impact our coastal ports is something that everyone that works in this industry at least is really interested in seeing how it's going to go," he says. "It's a little unprecedented - as you know, historically, these trade sanctions with Cuba have been in place a long time, actually longer than I've been alive. So this is a pretty interesting thing from an economic perspective that's happened just over the course of the last 24 hours.

University of Southern Mississippi geography professor Mark Miller says the Mississippi Coast and Cuba are natural partners, with ports facing each other. Miller thinks another potential economic tie is reconstruction expertise and materials.

"We've got beautiful lumber production here, and good capability in terms of construction, so that would be one very important way that I think we could develop an economic relationship," he says.

Miller says tourism could also be a potential connection between Cuba and Mississippi.

Though this week's action expands some sales and exports from the U.S., the overall trade embargo remains in place. That would have to be lifted by Congress.