With the White House’s announcement that President Obama will be visiting Cuba in March, President Obama will become the second sitting American president after Calvin Coolidge to visit Cuba in nine decades. This historic announcement provides the opportunity not only to help define President Obama’s legacy, but to also prove that two countries once divided by generations of strife can come together through diplomacy to support the American and Cuban people. 

There is ample room for American businesses across all sectors to gain a foothold in the Cuban market, especially in agriculture. Cuba imports 80 percent of its food from far away countries such as Brazil and Argentina.

- James Williams

President Obama’s visit comes at a pivotal moment for our country. At a time of heightened political divisiveness in and out of Washington on nearly every issue, support for a new Cuba policy cuts through tired party politics. Seventy-two percent of Americans from both parties agree that it’s time for Congress to end the embargo and open the U.S. up for business and travel with our Cuban neighbors. The Cuban people overwhelmingly support this as well, as 97 percent of them favor ending the embargo.

This agreement among Americans on both sides of the aisle, and in rural areas and cities alike, is why we launched Engage Cuba, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to ending the Cuban travel and trade embargo. We work with local community leaders and business people from across the country who can envision a future with renewed U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations and can see the increased economic activity that comes with it. It is amazing to see bipartisan leaders across diverse sectors in states such as Tennessee and Ohio come together through Engage Cuba State Councils to stand united in their support for ending the Cuban embargo, and because of the possibilities ahead, that support will only continue to grow.

Renewed U.S.-Cuba relations is appealing to Americans because at the center of this burgeoning relationship is the core American principle of opportunity. Engagement with Cuba presents numerous prospects for U.S. businesses and the Cuban people. According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, trade with Cuba could generate $4.3 billion in American exports. 

There is ample room for American businesses across all sectors to gain a foothold in the Cuban market, especially in agriculture. Cuba imports 80 percent of its food from far away countries such as Brazil and Argentina. But if the embargo were to be lifted, Cubans could instead import fresh and nutritious food from its close neighbor, the United States, and American farmers could bring their products to a largely untapped market while delivering quality, affordable food to the Cuban people.

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This is just one of the many economic opportunities President Obama will witness when he visits Cuba. With the need for infrastructure investment, telecommunications expansion and so much more, each day the U.S. cannot trade with Cuba is a missed opportunity. The current embargo halts job growth and economic development in places that need it most — both in Cuba and here in America. But these changes are not solely the responsibility of the U.S. In order to build on this diplomatic moment, Cuba has to do its part to continue to open its economy and support greater economic ties with the United States.

As the President embarks on his first visit to Cuba, and opens up additional possibilities to engage with Cuba in the future, he is continuing the significant progress made over the last year. Just recently, the U.S. and Cuba reached an agreement to commence commercial flights for the first time in 50 years. In a short time, millions of Americans will have the opportunity to visit Cuba and soak in its rich and vibrant culture. And just this week, U.S. and Cuban trade officials met to discuss additional regulatory changes that can be made to support trade and commerce. 

So we should celebrate President Obama’s trip to Cuba as a historic moment, one that seeks to put an end to the conflict and tension that defined the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba for decades. After years of a failed policy, it is time for our country to engage with Cuba and ensure our foreign policy encourages opportunity that is good for both Americans and Cubans.

James Williams is the President of Engage Cuba, the leading coalition of private companies and organizations working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba.

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