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 Agricultural Exports to Cuba Could Triple to $1B Annually  

U.S. food and agricultural exports to Cuba could triple to $1 billion annually as relations between the two countries thaw, administration officials and independent experts told lawmakers Tuesday.

 

That’s one reason congressional opponents of improved relations with Cuba face a tough battle: Many Republicans representing rural areas would like to see their farmers and ranchers shipping products to the communist nation.


“If we’re serious about bringing real change to Cuba, we need to expose the Cuban people to America,” Arkansas Republican Sen. John Boozman said at a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. “We’re not only trading our products, but we’re trading our democratic ideals. Cuba represents a remarkable opportunity for American farmers, (and) boosting our commercial ties would have significant benefits for both of our economies.”


That’s the same argument President Barack Obama made in December when he announced he would reverse 50 years of U.S. policy and re-establish diplomatic ties with the Castro regime.


His announcement was loudly opposed by key lawmakers, led by Cuban-American senators Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and 2016 presidential candidate, and Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


Saying normalization would reward decades of oppression, Rubio threatened to block funding for an embassy in Havana and to hold up anyone the president nominates for ambassador.


Since then, however, many Republicans and Democrats have begun embracing a closer relationship with the island nation of 11 million people 90 miles off Florida’s coast.


GOP senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Mike Enzi of Wyoming have co-sponsored legislation to lift the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. Sen. Ran Paul, R-Ky., also has called for better relations.


Agriculture is seen as a fertile area to improve relations — and grow jobs — with a country that imports up to 80 percent of its food.


U.S. food and agricultural exports to Cuba in 2014 totaled $286 million, less than 1 percent of all such exports. Poultry accounted for more than half, followed by soybean meal, bulk soybeans and bulk corn. Opening up markets could lead to substantial exports of wheat, rice and dairy products, experts testified.


Those exports could surpass $1.2 billion annually within five years — creating about 6,000 U.S. jobs — with a more open economy and expanded tourism in Cuba, less regulation by both governments, and steps to raise the amount of remittance money sent to the island, C. Parr Rosson III, head of agriculture economics at Texas A&M told senators.


Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat who wants the embargo lifted, said she found Cubans “eager to develop a new relationship” with the United States during a visit to Havana in January.


“But we can only do that with meaningful steps that will soften many of the barriers that exist between us,” she said. “And America’s farmers and ranchers are uniquely positioned to lead the way.”


Minnesota cattle rancher Ralph Kaehler said financing barriers erected in the wake of the embargo add costs and delays that the rest of the world doesn’t face. He said getting rid of those obstacles would be an important step to opening up commerce with Cuba.


“The efficiencies gained by doing this would be immediately beneficial,” he told the panel. “It would make shipping cheaper for producers and food less expensive for Cubans, both of which can only be a good thing for our trade relationship.”

 

Source: News Press


Posted on Friday, April 24, 2015 (Archive on Friday, May 01, 2015)
Posted by bholcomb@adpi.org  Contributed by bholcomb@adpi.org
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