Impact of Cuban embargo ‘limited’


U.S. sanctions on Cuba have cost Americans less than US$1 billion a year in exports and have had a similarly minimal impact on the communist island, according to the most comprehensive federal study ever of the embargo’s impact.

The U.S. International Trade Commission report, sent Thursday to the House Ways and Means Committee but not released publicly, could provide fodder to those on both sides of the debate over lifting the 39-year old trade embargo. An executive summary was obtained by The Associated Press.

Supporters of the embargo can say the report boosts their argument that U.S. businesses are losing relatively few trade opportunities because of the sanctions and that lifting the sanctions would do little to boost Cuba’s weak economy and poor living conditions.

“U.S. economic sanctions with respect to Cuba generally had a minimal overall historical impact” on the Cuban and U.S. economies, it said.

Even without sanctions, Cuba’s own policies would limit trade, the analysts said.

“Cuba … tends to select its trade and investment partners based on political considerations — the desire to maintain economic ties with existing partners and to avoid becoming economically dependent on a single country — rather than economic cost factors,” the report said.

But opponents can point to specific instances where the sanctions have cost the United States trade opportunities — most notably rice, where U.S. export losses have been “significant.”

The sanctions cost U.S. rice growers what had been their leading market from 1955-58. Without sanctions, U.S. rice imports could have increased by 3 percent to 5 percent a year, the report said.

And the study noted that an estimated 1 million U.S. tourists would visit Cuba each year if the sanctions were lifted — which could benefit U.S. travel businesses that book the trips, along with the Cuban economy.

Overall, the report estimates the United States would have gained US$652 million to US$990 million a year in exports if the sanctions had been lifted. Cuba would have gained US$84 million to US$167 million a year.

“I think the ITC basically established what we’ve been saying all along, which is that there’s a minimal impact on U.S. business of the sanctions,” said Dennis Hays, executive vice president of the Cuban-American National Foundation, which is opposed to Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

The study by the independent, nonpartisan agency is believed to be the first objective attempt by the U.S. government to study the economic effects of sanctions imposed by President John F. Kennedy in the early ‘60s to pressure democratic changes in Castro’s communist Cuba.