Corporate lobbyists score victory in loosening of Cuban trade embargo

December 18, 2014, 12:30 PM UTC
A man fetches passengers on his tricycle taxi in Havana
A man fetches passengers on his tricycle taxi in Havana December 17, 2014. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa (CUBA - Tags: SOCIETY) - RTR4IH4S
Photograph by Enrique de la Osa — Reuters

President Obama’s loosening of the Cuban embargo after five decades came after a handful of Fortune 500 companies lobbied against sanctions on trade and business in the region.

Dump truck and tractor maker Caterpillar (CAT)(#49 on the Fortune 500), personal care product maker Colgate-Palmolive (CL) (#167) and insurance company Chubb (CB) (#208) all spent tens of thousands of dollars to lobby government officials this year about the Cuban embargo, according to regulatory documents.

Businesses have been pushing the federal government to lift trade restrictions with Cuba for some time. But those efforts seemed to ramp up in May when a number of political figures and corporate executives including Enrique Sosa, the former president of Dow Chemical North America, and George Weiksner, the vice chairman of Credit Suisse, signed an open letter to President Obama suggesting ways to “increase support for Cuban civil society.”

The companies that disclosed Cuba-related lobbying this year could all stand to gain from the embargo being lifted. But the White House’s decision Wednesday falls short of opening the doors to full trade, which requires Congressional approval. With the limited changes, companies will be able to peddle agricultural equipment, residential building materials and equipment for small businesses. Secretary of State John Kerry said that normalizing ties with Cuba means “greater regional stability and economic opportunities for American businesses.”

In its filing in April, Caterpillar said that it had spent $1.7 million on lobbying related to a broad range of issues including the Cuba Reconciliation Act, the Free Trade with Cuba Act, the United States-Cuba Normalization Act and the Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act – all of which would increase trade with Cuba.

Bill Lane, a global government affairs director at Caterpillar, voiced support for the White House’s decision on Cuba. “We are pleased with the announcement today,” he told Fortune. “It’s a good step in the right direction.” He added that the company has funded lobbying efforts for “well over a decade” and that “engagement can be a powerful force.”

The legal firm Baker & Hostetler, meanwhile, filed two separate lobbying disclosures on behalf of Colgate-Palmolive with more vague and wide-reaching goals. In addition to work related to U.S.-India business relationship and economic development in Costa Rica, the lobbyists pushed for economic development in Cuba. The firm collected $160,000 for its work in the second quarter and $360,000 in the following quarter.

The third Fortune 500 company listed by the database, Chubb, filed three lobbying reports entirely related to Cuba and the embargo. It was paid $50,000 in the first quarter and $60,000 in the two following quarters.

Spokesmen for Colgate-Palmolive and Chubb were not immediately available for comment.

Other companies not listed in the Fortune 500, which disclosed lobbying on the issue of Cuba this year include alcoholic spirits maker Bacardi and General Cigar Company, which is part of an industry that hopes to profit from loosening of the embargo.