five years. US manufacturers now also benefit
from a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia.
MEJ: Do you forsee an expansion or acceleration of US companies—boat builders,
equipment manufacturers, service providers,
etc.—doing business abroad?
Balzano: Unfortunately, I am seeing a deceleration of US companies doing business
abroad. This was anticipated given the
strengthening US dollar and improved state of
the industry domestically. Companies have to
work harder now to retain their international
sales. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for companies to continue to stay the
course with their export efforts.
Everything is cyclical and it’s just a matter
of time until we’ll find ourselves once again
mitigating a weaker US dollar and slower
domestic market in comparison to other international markets. Most companies that export
are better able to navigate seasonal and economic fluctuations by simply shifting their
focus and resources to the strongest markets at
any given time. I hope that enough have
learned from the past and will continue to
invest in growing their export markets, in
spite of the stronger US dollar.
But, developing a healthy portfolio of
international clients doesn’t happen
overnight, so I’m always preaching the importance of maintaining healthy and consistent
relationships and finding ways to work with
current international clients during good
times as well as bad.
MEJ: Are there specific market sectors
(boats, engines/motors, electronics, accessories, etc.) that stand out as prime examples of
strong exports currently?
Balzano: Even though overall US exports
YTD of boats and engines are down 7%, as I
mentioned earlier, there are some examples of
markets that continue to stand out as prime
examples of strong export markets, including
Mexico (up 21.8%), Belgium for engines (up
43%), Japan (up 21%), China (up 32%) and
Colombia (up 44%). There are many others
that recorded a modest decrease in exports, but
are believed to be reflective of cyclical market
corrections, including Spain, Italy and France.
Exports to Canada and Australia, two of our
historically strongest and largest markets, have
decreased by a little more than 15% each.
MEJ: You’ve made a few trips to Cuba
recently. Please describe the purpose of those
trips and whether they succeeded in accomplishing the goals. What’s next in NMMA’s
Balzano: Arguably, Cuba has some of the
best boating waters in the world with 1400
miles of coastline just like the Florida Keys. If
the Cuban Keys were superimposed on the
Atlantic Seaboard, they would stretch from
Miami to New York.
Cuba is likely to become an important market for US manufacturers and service providers
alike once Americans are able to legally travel
to Cuba, via their own boats, and without
restrictions. As with Mexico, we benefit from a
privileged geographic location.
It’s my belief that it’s only a matter of time
until the embargo will be lifted and I don’t feel
that I’m alone in this thinking. I receive calls
weekly from members and others about plans
that are currently being evaluated. When and if
the embargo is lifted and the Cuban govern-
ment begins to allow foreign direct investment
and private enterprise, I’m confident that we’ll
see some opportunities emerge. In fact, in the
most recent updates announced on Sept. 18,
the US government disclosed some new rules
that ease restrictions on US entities doing busi-
ness in Cuba.
Over the past 13 months, we led two fact-finding missions to the island with the simple
goal of enhancing each delegate’s knowledge
firsthand about Cuba and the island’s potential
opportunities, as they formulate their respective business strategy. We visited the recently
built Marina Gaviota in Varadero as well as
existing complexes and boating sites throughout the central region.
We have one final mission planned for the
second week of December that is already sold
MEJ: Since Cuban citizens are prohibited
from owning boats, it’s safe to assume that
development is aimed at creating marinas
and infrastructure to attract US and other
non-Cuban boat owners.
Balzano: Our hope is that increased infrastructure and nautical tourism will ultimately
help the Cuban people. Given our geographic
location, the United States is the most natural
boating market for nautical tourism to Cuba.
Private ownership of boats in Cuba is currently prohibited, except for perhaps those that
belong to government-sanctioned fishing
cooperatives. In fact, Cuban citizens themselves are prohibited from boarding boats
except for special exceptions. I am not aware of
any significant changes at this time.
Even if Cuba were to open up to free enterprise tomorrow, I don’t believe that buying a
boat would be priority nor even feasible for
most Cubans living in Cuba. This is a country
that has done without for so long so the pent
up needs of even the most basic essentials are
Colombia has plans to become Latin America’s top boating tourism destination.
Backed by a Free Trade Agreement with the US, the government is banking that an
ambitious infrastructure development strategy will produce results.