Updated with comments from ag organizations.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced several measures that will foster collaboration between the U.S. and Cuban agriculture sectors during his second visit to Cuba.
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While in Cuba, Vilsack announced that USDA will allow the 22 industry-funded Research and Promotion Programs and 18 Marketing Order organizations to conduct authorized research and information exchange activities with Cuba. These groups, which are responsible for creating bonds with consumers and businesses around the world in support of U.S. agriculture, will be able to engage in cooperative research and information exchanges with Cuba about agricultural productivity, food security and sustainable natural resource management. Vilsack called the announcement "a significant step forward in strengthening our bond and broadening agricultural trade between the United States and Cuba."
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During their bilateral meeting March 21, Vilsack and Cuban Minster of Agriculture Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero will sign a Memorandum of Understanding that establishes a framework for sharing ideas and research between the two countries. Vilsack also has invited Rodriguez Rollero to join on a visit to one of USDA's Climate Sub Hubs in Puerto Rico in late May, where USDA researchers are studying the effects of climate change in the subtropical region and strategies for mitigating these effects.
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"Recognizing the importance of agriculture in the United States and Cuba, USDA is advancing a new partnership for the 21st century between our two countries," Vilsack said. "U.S. producers are eager to help meet Cuba's need for healthy, safe, nutritious food. Research and Promotion and Marketing Order Programs have a long history of conducting important research that supports producers by providing information about a commodity's nutritional benefits and identifying new uses for various commodities. The agreements we reached with our Cuban counterparts on this historic trip, and the ability for our agriculture sector leaders to communicate with Cuban businesses, will help U.S. agricultural interests better understand the Cuban market, while also providing the Cuban people with science-based information as they grow their own agriculture sector."
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American Farm Bureau president Zippy Duvall praised the announcement.
“This announcement by USDA represents a major boost in growing the Cuban market that sits just 90 miles off our coast,” Duvall said. “I want to personally thank USDA and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack for the support shown America’s farmers and ranchers in this matter.”
AFBF and other farm groups have been working closely with USDA in hopes of lifting the prohibition against using agricultural checkoff funds in Cuba.
“American-grown foods hold a clear competitive advantage in the Cuban marketplace, and the use of farmer- and rancher-generated funds to promote and market U.S. farm goods fits the checkoff mission perfectly,” Duvall said.
"Today's announcement is a big step forward in terms of expanding the Cuban marketplace for U.S. soy.," said American Soybean Association president Richard Wilkins, a soybean farmer from Greenwood, Del. "Over the past few years, we've seen Cuba--an emerging economy just 90 miles from our shore with a growing demand for meat protein--as a source of potential growth for U.S. soy, but Cuba is a market in dire need of attention. We have lost market share there year over year for both whole beans and soybean meal, and we’ve lost the oil market entirely to our South American competition. This is a byproduct of the embargo and our resulting inability to truly give that market the attention it deserves."
"NFU fully supports the use of all tools available to normalize relations and fair trade with Cuba,” said NFU president Roger Johnson. “As such, we appreciate AMS' decision to allow checkoff programs to use their resources for the promotion of American agricultural products to a market of 11 million people just 90 miles away from American shores."
American Feed Industry Association comments
"AFIA is pleased with Secretary Vilsack's announcement today that USDA will allow Research and Promotion Programs and Marketing Order activities in Cuba," said president & CEO Joel G. Newman. "This is the first step to the U.S. industry better understanding the Cuban market and to sharing vital information and expertise with Cuba on agriculture production. Once existing regulatory and financial hurdles and restrictions have been lifted, this foundation of knowledge sharing and relationship building will serve in providing greater opportunities for U.S. feed and pet food products to Cuba."
"The NGFA believes strongly in normalizing agricultural trade relations with Cuba, including arrangements under which Cuba can finance its purchases of U.S. agricultural products on normal commercial terms,” said the National Grain and Feed Association in a statement. “While full normalization of trade ultimately will require congressional action, the steps announced today by Secretary Vilsack to promote cooperative research and information exchange activities with Cuba are another positive step forward along the journey to that ultimate destination."
Activities that may be allowed by USDA -- >>>
Activities that may be allowed
USDA will review all proposed Research and Promotion Board and Marketing Order activities related to Cuba to ensure that they are consistent with existing laws. Examples of activities that may take place include the following:
-Provide nutritional research and guidance, as well as participate with the Cuban government and industry officials, at meetings regarding nutrition and related Cuban rules and regulations.
-Conduct plate waste study research in schools to determine what kids eat and what they discard, leading to improved nutritional information.
-Provide U.S. based market, consumer, nutrition and environmental research findings to Cuban government and industry officials.
-Research commodities' role in a nutritious diet that improves health or lowers the risk of chronic diseases.
-Study the efficacy of water disinfectants to eliminate/inactivate bacteria on commodities.
-Test recipes and specific products amongst Cuban consumers of all ages, with the goal of increasing product development and acceptance.
-Conduct consumer tracking studies to measure attitudes when it comes to a specific commodity and consumption and to identify consumer groups based on their behavior, attitudes, and purchasing habits for a particular commodity.
Puerto Rican visit
The visit to the Puerto Rico Sub Hub would allow USDA and Cuba's Ministry of Agriculture to exchange information on climate change as it relates to tropical forestry and agriculture, and explore opportunities for collaboration. The two officials would be able to explore tools and strategies to cope with challenges associated with climate change, such as drought, heat stress, excessive moisture, longer growing seasons, and changes in pest pressure.
The Puerto Rico hub is part of the USDA Regional Climate Hub network that supports applied research and provides information to farmers, ranchers, advisors, and managers to inform climate-related decision making. The hubs are an invaluable resource for those seeking to understand the specific risks of climate change, as well as region-specific adaptation strategies.
The agriculture and forestry sectors in the Caribbean are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Not only is the region particularly exposed to extreme weather events, but much of its population and prime agricultural lands are located on the coast. The Puerto Rico Sub Hub is specifically focused on addressing these unique challenges and supporting the people and institutions involved in tropical forestry and agriculture.
Ag trade allowed, but limited
While most U.S. commercial activities are prohibited, the Trade Sanctions Reform Act (TSRA) of 2000 permits the export of U.S. agricultural commodities, though U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba are limited by U.S. restrictions on government export assistance, cash payments and extending credit. U.S. agricultural exports have grown significantly since trade was authorized in 2000. In 2014, Cuba imported over $2 billion in agricultural products including $300 million from the United States. However, from 2014 to 2015, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba fell 48 percent to $148.9 million, the lowest since 2002, giving the United States just a 10 percent market share as Cuba's fourth largest agricultural supplier, behind the EU, Brazil, and Argentina.
Vilsack joined President Obama on his historic trip to Cuba, the first by a sitting U.S. president in nearly 90 years. He earlier visited in November, part of the first USDA team to visit Cuba since 1961.