JOHNSON COUNTY, IA(CBS2/FOX28)–On Friday, new changes allowing more trade and travel between the United States and Cuba went into effect.
Last week, we showed you how Americans can go to Cuba on tours with travel agencies, schools or churches, but the changes could also have an economic impact here in Iowa.
Only Congress can end the five-decade embargo so Iowa farmers are pressuring both parties to come to an agreement because they see a huge opportunity to sell to a market that would reap benefits from our products.
“We’re talking about 11 million more consumers. That’s a lot of mouths to feed and a lot of product,” Iowa farmer Steve Swenka said. For Swenka, the opportunity of selling to Cuba is a no-brainer, “Iowa farmers are in a really unique position in that their diversified.
Most Iowa farmers have several commodities.” He said he thinks grains, corn and soybeans will be the first products delivered to Cuba. Then he expects beef and pork to be picked up. “I’m really anticipating higher cuts of beef,” he said.
Swenka believes Cubans will fall in love with the quality of meat Iowa farmers have to offer. “Could you buy a steak in Cuba as reasonably priced in Iowa City? Probably not, but I’m hoping that all can be negotiated.”
Right now, the US can import, but it’s not easy. Most of the food that goes into the country is for humanitarian efforts. “The US has been allowed to import food to Cuba for years now.
However, the restrictions have made it very difficult for farmers to compete,” Coe College Political Science Professor Lynda Barrow said. Cuba imports about 80% of their food.
But the cost to ship meat and grains could be a lot less, since the US is a lot closer than where some of their other imports come from. “We’re 90 miles away so why not,” Mount Mercy Business Professor Nate Klein said.
Klein said opening the door to sell and trade agricultural products with Cuba could provide at least 6,000 jobs here in Iowa. “Anytime you open a market especially the size of the state of Ohio, you create opportunities not only for farmers but for people selling different products.”
It’s just a matter of getting two parties and two countries on board to re-establish trade regulations. Barrow said lifting the embargo could potentially provide up to a billion dollars a year for the agricultural sector in the US. But there are some who oppose the idea to end it.
“If you look at the political regulations on Capitol Hill, it has to go before the US Congress. Congress is controlled by Republicans and some Republicans especially in Florida are not so eager to lift the embargo,” Barrow said. Barrow said many Cuban Americans are also opposed to ending the embargo but when you look at it from an economic impact, it’s a win-win for both countries.
But Swenka says he is raising his hand to be the first to sell to Cuba, because it’s a market be believes will boost Iowa’s economy. “Opening up trade regulations with Cuba is going to be naturally great for the Iowa farmer,” Swenka said.
See video here.
January 18, 2015