On Wednesday, Louisiana rice farmers and USA Rice members Eric Unkel and Jeffrey Sylvester spent the in D.C. here visiting their Members of Congress and participating in the White House briefing on “Business Opportunities in Cuba.”
The duo arrived in the capital just in time for the first sunshine in weeks and began their busy day with Cuba-related visits with Senators Bill Cassidy and David Vitter and a stop in Rayburn House Office Building to see Representative John Fleming.
The general request was for support on existing legislation that would lift the regulations blocking U.S. financial institutions from providing credit to Cuban buyers for agricultural commodities, such as rice.
They pointed to an economic analysis put together by the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba and Engage Cuba and approved by the USDA that outlines the potential market for rice and soybeans in Cuba, Louisiana’s top agricultural exports. Representatives Ralph Abraham and Charles Boustany of Louisiana have already openly supported legislation and other efforts to open the Cuban market for agriculture.
The afternoon was consumed by the White House Business Council’s briefing on Cuba with the two Administration panels with representatives from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, State, Treasury and Commerce. The audience of more than 160 participants from all sectors and from all over the United States participated through a question-and-answer process. At least one of the panelists indicated Cuba’s strong desire to purchase U.S.-grown rice and the need for Congressional action to remove the financing barriers preventing agricultural exports.
“It’s a rare feeling to leave Washington optimistically but after meeting with Senator Cassidy and getting Senator Vitter’s commitment to cosponsor the legislation that would allow U.S. financing to Cuba for ag commodities, I’m feeling pretty good,” said Unkel, president of the Louisiana Rice Council (LARC).
Sylvester, president of the Evangeline Parish Rice Growers Association, said, “Hearing questions and comments coming from other industries was helpful to me because we’re so focused on the impacts to and by the rice industry that we forget about all of the other businesses that would benefit from normalized trade with Cuba. There was an overwhelming excitement in the room and the Administration representatives seemed like they really want to be helpful in making business with Cuba a reality.”
By Peter Bachmann, USA Rice
May 26, 2016