Cuba Trade Data

Updated on October 12, 2018

On July 20, 2015, the United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations. Any shift in trade relations between the two countries could have significant implications for the U.S. economy as a whole and the Sixth Federal Reserve District in particular. The Sixth District, home to the ports of Miami and New Orleans, would likely face increases in both demand and competition for many of its goods and services.

To better understand Cuban trade relations moving forward, we first need to examine the components of Cuba's economy.

Two relevant questions are: What does Cuba trade? With whom is Cuba trading?


Exports

In Chart 1, we see that half of Cuba's exports in goods are agricultural in nature, mostly raw sugar and rolled tobacco.

 


Imports

In chart 2, we see Cuba's imports, with the largest category being machinery and electrical. Chart 3 shows where these imports come from. Cuba’s leading source of imports is China (27 percent of imports), followed by Spain (15 percent of imports). The UN COMTRADE data do not include imports from Venezuela.

Note: Data downloads are available for finer import and export detail.


International Trade

The Cuban government still directs much of this economic activity, and most citizens work for the state. However, substantial reforms have recently expanded the possibility of retail self-employment, with the number of self-employed people tripling in recent years.

Although there is a trade embargo, it is important to note that the United States already trades with Cuba. In October 2000, the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act authorized certain sales of food, medicines, and medical equipment to a number of countries, including Cuba.

In our most recent year of data (2015), the United States exported more than $180 million worth of goods to Cuba, with 60 percent of that trade originating in the Sixth District.

Further, the transactions that the Department of Commerce approved last year were up 30 percent from 2014. Questions frequently asked of the Office of Foreign Assets Control regarding Cuban sanctions are available on the U.S. Department of the Treasury's website.

Looking at chart 4, we see that U.S. trade with Cuba largely follows Sixth District trade, which in turn largely follows Louisiana trade, most likely due to the state's vast rice and sugar plantations.

Venezuela and Cuba engage in oil-for-services trade, which is not accounted for in the UN COMTRADE data shown here. See this 2014 policy brief from the Brookings Institution.

Because of rising commodity prices and in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike that devastated Cuba, U.S. exports to Cuba peaked dramatically in 2008 at $711 million.

Currently, U.S. trade with Cuba is relatively minuscule on the scale of trade as a whole. Last year's exports to Cuba were valued at less than two-tenths of a percent of U.S. exports to China, and approximately one-hundredth of a percent of U.S. exports as a whole.


Tourism

Cuba's government is trying to increase tourism revenue. The number of visitors to Cuba grew to 3 million in 2014 (chart 5)—and nearly 4 million in 2016.


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