Rice Market: Arkansas Farmer Advocates Trade with Cuba at House Hearing

This morning, the House Committee on Agriculture held a hearing to examine American Agricultural Trade with Cuba and hear testimony from a variety of industry-related witnesses.

The hearing has been on USA Rice’s “wish list” for a number of months and provided a forum for witnesses from the credit, economics, exporting, and farming sectors to share positive aspects of opening agricultural trade with Cuba along with a perspective from the movement’s opposition. Witnesses providing oral testimony before the Committee included: Matt Gibson, Bunge North America; Karen Lowe, CoBank ACB; Dr. Luis Ribera, Texas A&M Department of Ag Economics; Mauricio Claver-Carone, Cuba Democracy Advocates; and Mark Isbell, USA Rice.

Isbell traveled to Washington to represent USA Rice as a fourth generation Arkansas rice farmer, Rice Leadership Program graduate, and staunch advocate for removing barriers for agricultural trade and financing with Cuba.

In his oral remarks, Isbell made it clear to the Members of the Committee that he left his operation mid-harvest to provide his testimony to them because of the gravity of the market situation: “Cubans will buy our rice. However, as a cash-deficient economy, the Cubans need flexibility in attaining credit to purchase our products; globally, everyone has offered it to them except for the U.S. The question is not if Cuba will buy American rice, or even how they will buy American rice. The question is when we as a country will let them,” he said.

Isbell was not done yet, he indicated that the ball is in Congress’ court and it was their turn to make the next play which could be done through the passage of Congressman Rick Crawford’s (R-AR) bill, H.R. 3687, the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act. He described the legislation as, “an attainable path forward towards a natural lifting of U.S. commodity prices, and could be the beginning of the end of a multi-generational feud that hindsight has proven ineffective in helping the Cuban people and harmful to our farm economies.”

A bipartisan swath of Committee Members currently supports the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act that would remove the restrictions on U.S. businesses from providing private financing for agricultural exports to Cuba.

Proponents of the Act are now advocating for its attachment to legislation that has the potential to be passed before Congress leaves session for the year in December. There’s a possibility that the bill’s underlying language will be included in some form of continuing resolution or omnibus funding legislation moved before the end of September or during a lame duck session.

Peter Bachmann, AGFAX

September 14, 2016

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