BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Friday that he is traveling to Cuba next week for a trade mission, seeking to build economic ties with the island nation now that the U.S. is moving to normalize relations between the countries.
The five-day trip, which begins Monday, will include Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson and Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson. About 50 other state, local, education and business officials also will participate.
“We want Louisiana to be first in line to any new opportunities with Cuba, particularly the import, export and foreign direct-investment possibilities that could range into the billions of dollars in the coming years,” Edwards said in a statement.
The visit comes as President Barack Obama has re-established diplomatic relations with the one-time foe. The United States and Cuba severed diplomatic ties in 1961 amid the Cold War. Obama traveled to Cuba in March, the first by a sitting U.S. president in nearly 90 years, and he’s named the first U.S. ambassador in more than a half-century.
Louisiana currently ranks as the top exporting state to Cuba and is seeking to bolster those relationships.
State lawmakers passed a resolution earlier this year urging trade talks with Cuba. Edwards’ office said the Democratic governor’s trip will include executives from five Louisiana port districts to discuss commercial opportunities with the country.
“There remains much work to be done before our nation’s embargo on broader trade with Cuba is lifted,” Edwards said. “However, there are new opportunities that can benefit Louisiana, and I am optimistic that we will be able to build on our existing trade partnership.”
The governor’s office said Edwards and the Louisiana delegation will attend an opening reception with Cuban officials Monday night; hold meetings Tuesday with the Cuban ministers of foreign affairs and foreign investment and the national port administration; visit the Port of Mariel and Port of Havana on Wednesday; visit farms and meet with the Cuban minister of agriculture on Thursday; and return to Louisiana on Friday.
Strain also traveled to Cuba in July with a state delegation.
“Cuba imports 80 percent of its produce, and Cuba is in great need of quality products Louisiana can provide,” the Republican agriculture commissioner said in a statement.
The last visit to Cuba was by Democratic Louisiana Gov. Democrat Kathleen Blanco in 2005.
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