Congresswoman not satisfied with progress in Cuba

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, discusses effort to improve U.S.-Cuba relations.

Ten months after leading a bipartisan agricultural mission to Cuba, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, said she isn’t satisfied with the progress made improving trade relations.

But she remains hopeful.

Bustos and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, co-sponsored legislation that would eliminate the requirement that Cubans pay cash in advance for American products. The legislation remains stalled.

“We made some tremendous progress right before we just came home in August, and at the last minute, it fell apart,” Busto said during RFD Radio Network’s Congressional Roundtable at the Illinois State Fair. “But here’s the good news: It didn’t fall apart so badly we can’t resurrect that. So, the thought right now is we will go back out to Washington after Labor Day, and I believe we’ll be able to make some movement on that. So, I feel good about that.”

U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba, allowed since 2000, have been on the decline for years. Trade restrictions have made U.S. exports increasingly uncompetitive.

Texas A&M University estimates U.S. ag exports to Cuba could reach $1.2 billion if remaining regulations can be relaxed and trade barriers lifted. Illinois’ share could be about $120 million a year -– four times the current value of the state’s ag exports to Cuba.

Bustos and Davis joined more than two dozen others during a four-day trip last October organized by the Illinois Cuba Working Group. The group, which included Illinois Farm Bureau, explored ways to expand trade opportunities.

Bustos called the trip “an important ground-laying step.” While there, the group also asked for help opening an office in Havana.

“We’re working on that,” said Bustos. “It’s not open yet, but we do continue to stay in touch with the Cuban embassy and the Cuban officials who we met with there on a regular basis.”

USDA also included a request for a Cuban office in the department’s fiscal year 2017 budget.

President Barack Obama announced plans to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba more than a year ago. The embassies have since been reopened and some travel between the two countries has resumed.

Deana Stroisch,

August 24, 2016

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