A group of Senators on Thursday introduced a bill to end the United States' 50-year embargo with Cuba, an effort to expand exports of U.S. goods, including farm commodities.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., spearheaded the bill.
President Obama in December said the U.S. would soon support normalization of trade relations with Cuba, ending a commerce and travel ban with the country that began in the 1960s. Though agricultural commodities have been traded with Cuba since 2001, financing requirements have restricted U.S. competitiveness, ag groups said.
With the official elimination of the embargo, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson says these financial restrictions would be removed, including allowing U.S. banks to extend credit to Cuban buyers.
"The financial restrictions currently in place prevent normal business relationships from developing between the U.S. and Cuba," Johnson said. "Extending credit to Cuban buyers allows for the purchasing of American farm goods, auto parts and other products that American family farmers, ranchers and rural communities already produce and are eager to sell."
American Soybean Association President Wade Cowan underscored the importance of the Cuban marketplace to soy farmers because of its consumption of oil and soybean meal. "That said, we have been previously able to sell our products to Cuba, but only under restrictions, so likely the most significant part of the bill is that it allows U.S. farmers, ranchers, and agribusinesses to have normal business and trade relationships with importers in Cuba, just like we do with almost every other nation, including normal banking, credit, and market development relationships," he said.
The bill also would remove restrictions on direct shipping between Cuban and American ports, which NFU's Johnson called an unnecessary trade barrier. "It slows down the movement of agricultural products from the U.S. to Cuba, making trade very difficult," he said.
Ag groups and agribusinesses in January organized the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba to promote ag trade to Cuba.
At the launch event, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said trade changes will improve the quality of life for Cuban citizens. "These changes … will expand choices for Cuban shoppers at grocery stores and create a new customer base for America's farmers and ranchers," he said.
According to Vilsack, Cuba is a $1.7 billion market, importing about 80% of its food. Just 90 miles from the United States' southern coast, the country is home to 11 million citizens.