×

Plenty of obstacles ahead for US-Cuba trade

U.S. businesses are hoping that President Barack Obama's historic visit to Cuba will increase bilateral trade, but experts say that there are still many obstacles to overcome.

Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox and chair of the President's Export Council, told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" that infrastructure, currency and worker rules need to be improved before full bilateral trade happens.

"First, an embargo has to be lifted in order for us to have more access to the markets," Burns said.

She is convinced there's interest in investing in Cuba, but that it just isn't clear how exactly that will happen.

"There's not a model for us to operate here," Burns said.

One of the biggest issues for foreign companies is the process and rules for employing local people. Burns explained that companies cannot hire the workers themselves and that technically Cuban employees would work for the government.

"That's not something I can see my way around easily," Burns said.

Despite the apparent difficulties, Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott International and vice chair of the PEC, said he is excited about the opportunities in Cuba. Last week, the U.S. government gave Starwood Hotels and Marriott the approval to do business in Cuba.

"This is a great step for the industry," Sorenson said. "We have discussions underway with a few different Cuban partners. Now with the U.S. government permission, we're optimistic we can get a deal done fairly quickly."

Starwood has a deal with Cuban partners to manage two hotels and is working on one for a third, slated to open in the next year or so. For Marriott, which has offered to merge with Starwood, possible linkups could include management, franchising or operating deals with the Cuban government, Sorenson said.

"We certainly know American travelers want to come to Cuba," Sorenson said.

— CNBC's Anita Balakrishnan contributed to this report.