WASHINGTON (NAFB) – More than 30 farm groups have formed a coalition to lobby Congress to end the decades old Cuba trade embargo. Major farm groups including the American Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, American Soybean Association and others say it’s time for full normalization of trade with Cuba, which is a market of 11 million consumers.
While the Treasury Department is already moving to ease financing restrictions for Cuban ag purchases, the U.S. Ag Coalition for Cuba seeks a full lifting of the embargo, which in the long run may boost Cuban ag revenues and buying power.
“The growing community of Cuban small farmers and co-ops need advice and assistance to aid in the transition from these large, state-owned agriculture enterprises, to a more entrepreneurial system,” said Minnesota U.S. Senator and Ag Committee member Amy Klobuchar to coalition leaders last week. “U.S. agriculture can help develop a new generation of Cuban agriculture.”
American Farm Bureau Director Dale Moore says the Cuban embargo and efforts to get rid of it have been around so long that it almost dropped off the radar screen until last month’s action by the president: “As my boss, President Stallman, said when the president made this announcement, he said ‘Do you have any idea where our talking points are on Cuba?’ No sir. This is not an issue that we’ve had, really, on the radar; this has popped up. So it was a really pleasant surprise just before Christmas.”
But much work remains, both in Congress and in the Administration, to make U.S. farmers and ranchers more competitive in the Cuban market. U.S. Wheat Associates President Alan Tracy says that starts with U.S. banks extending credit to Cuba, which they can’t do now.
“What we would seek would be to have the ability to offer terms more favorable than we currently have,” Tracy explains. “It isn’t half so much the credit, from my standpoint, as all the hoops that they have to go through. In order to open a line of credit, they often have to go to a European bank, which then opens a letter of credit in the United States. Obviously, our competitors don’t have to do that.”
Nations as far away as Vietnam are now selling commodities like rice to Cuba, when the U.S., just 90 miles away, could ship more and at lower cost. Farm Bureau sees a nearly $1 billion market in Cuba, compared with what today is just a $350 million a year market.