NFTC, USA*Engage and ATRIP Announce Alliance to Address Sensible U.S. Cuba Policy

Friday, 14 May 2004

"Combined memberships of our organizations that address business interests across the spectrum - from manufacturing to the service sector, and now to the travel sector - will be a vital component of our new alliance with ATRIP in our long-standing effort to improve U.S.-Cuba relations," said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council and co-chairman of USA*Engage. "Since its founding just one year ago, ATRIP has become a leading voice in the fight to ease U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba and to encourage reopening economic ties between the two countries. Now, our alliance with ATRIP will continue the push in Congress and elsewhere to turn around this failed 40-year policy of isolation."

"We are thrilled to be associated with the National Foreign Trade Council and USA*Engage, and look forward to the mutual benefits that this alliance will bring," said Michael Zuccato, president of ATRIP. "The NFTC and the USA*Engage coalition long have been leaders in helping formulate common sense policy on trade matters and sanctions, and both organizations are universally regarded as Washington's best sources for comprehensive knowledge on the intricacies of trade policy and the effects of unilateral sanctions."

With the Bush Administration's recently announced policy changes on Cuba, the ATRIP-USA*Engage alliance is well timed. The current report by the President's Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba calls for new initiatives that will cause economic hardship to U.S. companies engaged in lawful travel services, and further strains U.S. Cuba relations.

"Further restricting travel to Cuba prevents the open exchange of American values and ideals and only increases ordinary Cubans' overpowering isolation," added Reinsch.

The report's initiatives, which President Bush has directed be implemented, also include a number of changes to current U.S. policy that are extremely harmful to Cuban Americans. The proposed actions include:

-Further limitation of family visits and humanitarian remittances to Cubans
Approximately 120,000 Cuban-Americans travel to Cuba each year to visit family under current policy, which allows them to travel once a year under a general license. The new regulations will limit visits to once in any three-year period and force travelers to undergo a burdensome bureaucratic process to obtain a specific license. Because the passenger load will be severely reduced, charter carriers will be forced to reduce the number of flights they offer resulting in substantial loss of revenue, potential higher fares and employee layoffs. OFAC, the agency responsible for blocking the financial resources of terrorists, is not now equipped to process the dramatic increase in requests for specific licenses that will result.

-Restrictions on passengers' charter-flight baggage to 44 pounds.
This restriction would be particularly damaging to an already-beleaguered airline industry. American
charter companies, in addition to nearly all domestic and international common carriers, charge passengers for excess baggage weight to encourage travelers to limit the amount of baggage they take;
to pay for additional services to screen, handle, and load excess baggage; and to pay for additional airport staff. Furthermore, no portion of the charge is remitted to Cuba, and Cuba does not charge travelers excess baggage fees for baggage weighing less than 88 pounds.

-Elimination of the "fully-hosted" travel category.
Fully-hosted travel permits travel to Cuba, provided that those traveling do not spend any money while
there; under current OFAC regulations, individuals who travel to Cuba fully-hosted do not violate any of the existing U.S. embargo prohibitions.

The premise of the Commission's report and presumably U.S. policy is to bring about democratic reform in Cuba. Unfortunately, these regulations do more to impede that goal than to realize it. Instead, the new regulations will restrict Americans' freedoms, cause substantial harm to American businesses and be especially harmful to Cuban families on both sides of the Florida Straits," said Jody Frisch, newly-named Executive Director of ATRIP and the alliance. "We are especially troubled by the Administration's efforts to eliminate the fully hosted provision for travel to Cuba, since the original Cuba embargo is predicated on the government's authority to restrict commercial and financial transactions. We question the legal authority to restrict travel that does not involve financial transactions, and we will take a hard look at all available remedies to ensure that the government does not overstep its legal authority.

"The Administration's obsession with Cuba now has implications that reach far beyond U.S.-Cuba policy," continued Frisch. "These new regulations now affect the United States aviation industry, U.S. educational curricula and even go so far as to redefine the family to exclude aunts and cousins, regardless of the relationships between Cuban Americans and their relatives on the island."

"These ill-informed proposed measures are contrary to the fundamental U.S. policy of engagement and in fact are contrary to the will of the U.S. Congress - which successfully passed amendments in each House last year to ease Cuba restrictions. Clearly, this will result in further tensions between the United States and Cuba. Not only is the Administration targeting Cuban Americans who wish to visit family still living in Cuba, but it is also increasing economic pressures on a segment of the economy-namely, the travel industry-that already is in a precarious position," concluded Reinsch.

USA*ENGAGE is a coalition of over 670 small and large businesses, agriculture groups and trade associations working to seek alternatives to the proliferation of unilateral U.S. foreign policy sanctions and to promote the benefits of U.S. engagement abroad. For more information on USA*ENGAGE and the harmful effects of unilateral trade sanctions, visit the USA*ENGAGE web site at www.usaengage.org.

The Association of Travel-Related Industry Professionals (ATRIP) is the nation's leading voice representing the interests of the travel industry and traveling public on issues related to open travel. ATRIP, comprising a broad spectrum of travel industry professionals-from travel agents to charter companies, airlines to tour operators-advocates for beneficial economic policies for the travel and tourism industry and the elimination of unnecessary or unduly burdensome restrictions on travel. www.atripusa.org.

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