Liberalized trade with Cuba: Significant benefits for ag?

 A truck delivers produce to a Cuban farmers' market. A good portion of Cuba's food supply could be provided by U.S. farmers and ranchers under a more liberalized trade policy, say Extension and industry spokesmen.  Ben Scholz, president of Cereal Crops Research Incorporated.

A truck delivers produce to a Cuban farmers’ market. A good portion of Cuba’s food supply could be provided by U.S. farmers and ranchers under a more liberalized trade policy, say Extension and industry spokesmen. Ben Scholz, president of Cereal Crops Research Incorporated.

Liberalizing trade with Cuba, as proposed in Arkansas Congressman Rick Crawford’s bill — H.R. 3687, the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act —would have a positive impact on U.S. agriculture, say farmers, key Extension economists, agricultural lenders, and representatives of commodity organizations, all witnesses at a recent House Agriculture Committee hearing on American agricultural trade with Cuba.

Opponents of more liberalized trade point to the inefficiencies and unreliability of the Cuban government, and to the possibility of food products being used as political fodder in the communist nation.

Under a more liberalized trade policy, including the potential to sell to Cuba on other than a cash basis, ag exports would rise significantly, says Dr. Luis Ribera, associate professor and Extension economist in the Agricultural Economics Department at Texas A&M.

“U.S. exports to Cuba would be expected to rise by $271.2 million a year, requiring an additional $561.9 million in business activity, for a total economic impact of $833.1 million, and supporting 4,478 new jobs,” says Ribera, who also serves as director of the Center for North American Studies (CNAS) and program director for International Projects for the Agricultural and Food Policy Center (AFPC) at College Station.

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Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates, is a critic. “Financing agricultural transactions with Cuba is not about assisting small and mid-size farmers on the island, but about financing a monopoly of the Castro regime,” he says.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, supports and is a co-sponsor of H.R. 3687, but expresses deep reservations about lifting the embargo.

“I believe there lies an opportunity—albeit a rather narrow one—to make changes that will positively benefit both agricultural producers here at home while contributing to economic growth in Cuba,” he said in opening remarks at the hearing.

“To that end, our colleague and General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee Chairman Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) authored H.R. 3687, which lifts the financing restrictions under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, while providing for both market promotion and U.S. agribusiness investment under strict safeguards. The committee was involved in the development of that bill, and both Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and I are co-sponsors.

“While I am very hopeful that we can find a path forward on expanding agricultural trade with Cuba, I remain firmly opposed to lifting the embargo or restrictions on travel,” Conaway said.

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