GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The Port of Gulfport is pursuing a future trade relationship with Cuba. Creating a "trade lane" with the nation could mean exports of poultry or building materials heading south. But there are some significant challenges as well.
The Port of Gulfport is no stranger in dealing with Cuba. Exports from Mississippi were shipped to that country just over 20 years ago.
"If you go back in the port's history to the late 1990s, the port was actively involved in trade with Cuba. Crowley was the first vessel that pulled out from the gulf and ended up going with a load of 500 tons of poultry into Cuba," said Port Executive Director Jonathan Daniels.
Things have changed dramatically since then. The re-establishment of trade relations between the U.S. and Cuba could create opportunity for ports along the gulf.
"A lot of ports are looking to try and get into that market. But what we don't want to do is get back into that market at the detriment of what we have with our current trade lanes," said Daniels.
He says creating the trade lane with Cuba isn't a one-way relationship. Cuba would need to show some initiative by updating its port infrastructure. And future construction there could fuel the need for the export of building products.
"There's a lot of building that needs to occur. There's a lot of infrastructure that needs to be put in place. So, wood, oriented strand board, plywood and other products that would be necessary to be able to build up their infrastructure, is something that fits very well into a container," said Daniels.
The project could take a step forward early next year. That's when port director Daniels will accompany a state delegation to Cuba, for trade talks.
"There's a lot of hurdles we need to get over. And that's nation to nation. We are going to sit back and watch how that unfolds. But we are going to be aggressive in trying to reestablish those activities," said Daniels.
Daniels said another factor is the incoming president and new administration. It's not clear yet what impact President-elect Trump and his leadership team will have on future trade relations with Cuba.