WINNEBAGO, Ill. — What about Cuba?
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, along with several staffers and Adam Nielsen, director of national legislation and policy development for the Illinois Farm Bureau, recently went on a districtwide tour to update constituents about America’s neighbor to the south.
“This was my very first trip to Cuba. Adam has been there before,” said Bustos of the trade mission-style four-day tour sponsored by the Illinois Cuba Working Group.
Bustos said there were three “to dos” that she brought home from the trip.
“Cuba can only buy our ag products by paying cash and paying in advance. We think that hurts our exports. We think we could do a lot better job if Cuba has access to credit,” she said.
Bustos said she wants to find a piece of legislation that she can sign off on to help extend credit to Cuba or change the way Cuba can purchase goods.
The second takeaway is to work on getting an office for the Illinois Cuba Working Group opened in Cuba.
Bustos said members of the group discussed the office proposal with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“We felt encouraged as we walked away that we can move this forward and get that office open,” she said.
Bustos said the third item is to encourage the sale of American goods and services in Cuba, specifically in the farm and agriculture sector. She said a visit to a working Cuban farm revealed farming practices similar to the 1960s in the U.S.
“They are using 50-plus-year-old tractors made by the Russians,” Bustos said.
“Baling wire and duct tape,” was how Nielsen described the farming equipment.
Bustos said her office has proposed a visit for Cuban agriculture officials and heads of Cuban agricultural co-ops to her 17th District.
“We have some of the best farmland in the world and the best farmers in the world so they can see how we do things here, how we address efficiency,” said Bustos, adding that the district also serves as world headquarters for John Deere and Caterpillar.
When Bustos opened the floor to questions from the members of the Winnebago County Farm Bureau who gathered at the Mitchell farm, Brent Pollard, another Winnebago County dairy farmer, asked how the Cuban government intended to pay for U.S. farm goods.
“Where do they get the revenue from exports in order to buy our products?” Pollard asked.
“They are expecting more than 4 million tourists this year,” Nielsen said.
Bustos agreed, saying the government expects tourism to increase and provide revenue.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Cuba’s chief exports are petroleum, nickel, medical products, sugar, tobacco, fish, citrus and coffee.
The island nation exports goods valued at an estimated $5.62 billion in 2014, versus $14.7 billion in imports. The country’s top trading partners are Venezuela, Canada, China and Netherlands.
Bustos said increased tourism will mean an increased demand for high-quality agricultural products.
“If they are going to grow their tourism, they’re going to have to be able to serve good milk, a good pork chop, some good beef,” she said.