For the first time in almost 40 years, a U.S. trade show is headed for Cuba. Peter W. Nathan, CEM, president of PWN Exhibicon International, L.L.C., plans to hold the United States Medical Equipment and Health Care Products trade show in Havana during the last week of January 1999.

Nathan decided to go to Cuba because "it's one of the few frontiers where the United States is not actively involved in trade because of the embargo," he says.

In 1980, Nathan was the first person to bring a trade show to China, and one of the first to take shows into the former Soviet Union in the early 1970s. He says, "Trade shows are one of the easiest and best ways to introduce companies and countries to each other."

He decided to hold a health care trade show because it is one of the few areas where the U.S. will allow exports. "I thought the humanitarian aspect of it would be more palatable to everyone involved," he says.

His company, based in Westport, Conn., has received a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of the Treasury, to hold the trade show, and at press time Nathan was waiting for an extension of that license, which he expected to obtain with no problem.

Nathan also has visited Cuba recently to discuss the details. "I've been informed by various Cuban authorities--from the ministry of health to the ministry of foreign trade to a deputy of Fidel Castro--that they are very pleased about holding this event and are offering me whatever cooperation I need," he says. The show will take over the whole PABEXPO center in Havana. There is a new hotel adjacent to the hall, several new hotels downtown, and more on the way, Nathan reports, adding that he was impressed by the quality of the hotels.

Originally, he had hoped to attract 75 to 100 exhibitors; already about 130 have expressed interest, Nathan says, and that's without any promotion. While exhibitors will not be able to sell on the show floor, they will be able to take orders, and then apply for a license to export from the U. S. Department of Commerce. That process won't be as cumbersome as it sounds, because some of the exhibiting companies are already exporting medical products into Cuba, Nathan points out.

Although his show will lay the groundwork, associations will have the opportunity to bring their shows to Cuba only when the embargo is lifted. At that point, "I certainly think it will be possible for anybody to bring a show down there," Nathan believes. But after legal restrictions are removed, trade show organizers will still contend with financial restrictions. "Cuba doesn't have a heck of a lot of money," he notes. "Cubans will be gearing their funds to certain industries, and they will want those exhibitions which fit with their priorities and economic plans. Health care is one of the very few [trade show] areas that they are allowing."