US manufacturer Caterpillar has been calling for a new policy towards Cuba since 1998, but with diplomatic relations being restored between Cuba and the US, symbolised by the opening of Cuba’s embassy in Washington, DC on July 20 and the US embassy in Havana on August 14, Caterpillar's global government affairs director, Bill Lane, has said that now is the time to reexamine opportunities in Cuba. The company launched a media campaign to call for the formal end to the US-Cuba trade embargo.

While the US's relations with Cuba are changing, Mr Lane contends that more could be done to accelerate growth in Cuba. For one, he said, multi-development banks need to take a more aggressive role in the country and Cubans also need to embrace reform that allows FDI to be successful. 

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Mr Lane and eight Caterpillar executives visited Cuba in late April as part of an official company trip to learn about market and philanthropic opportunities. “We met with representatives in the construction, mining and power generation industries and checked out philanthropic endeavors to help reinforce the Caterpillar brand and help the Cuban people,” Mr Lane revealed. “We felt it was time to start sorting out opportunities in Cuba and moving forward with a plan so we can get a first move advantage when change takes place as far as US and Cuban restrictions being lifted.” 

Caterpillar executives see competition in Cuba: Volvo Construction in the mining sector and Komatsu in construction. “The Chinese are trying to make some inroads,” he says.

But Mr Lane maintains that US firms have a home field advantage. “Location is important,” he said. “Cubans know American brands and they like them.”

To be successful, company officials realise Caterpillar will have to make its own capital investment in Cuban infrastructure. “[The Port of] Muriel is very usable,” he said. “But while tourists enjoy looking at the 60-year old cars, we spent our time looking at the 60-year-old roads. Everything we make is needed in Cuba.”