Senator hopes to boost Colorado trade with Cuba

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., wants to link as many Colorado farmers and ranchers with Cuba as possible.

As part of an effort to help open up markets in that Caribbean nation, and help boost Colorado’s agriculture exports, the senator has partnered with a group called Engage Cuba, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition of private companies and organizations that is working to lift travel and trade embargoes on the island nation.

To make that happen, Bennet and the group have created a 38-member council of Coloradans from the travel, banking, tourism and agricultural communities.

Though no one specifically from the Western Slope is on that panel, they are represented through such groups as the Colorado Farm Bureau and the Colorado Pork Producers Council, Bennet’s office said.

Along with that effort, Bennet is co-sponsoring a bill in Congress, the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, that would repeal current restrictions on doing business with the communist nation, something that President Barack Obama has already started to do on his own.

“Whether it’s potatoes in the San Luis Valley, grass-fed beef from the Western Slope, milk and cheese from local dairies or wheat from the eastern plains, Cuba will create excellent new opportunities for farmers and ranchers,” Bennet said. “Unfortunately, our agriculture industry, the state’s third largest, is missing out on these lucrative markets. We hope that the creation of this council will help build support for our bill and open doors for economic growth for Colorado producers.”

Engage Cuba says that the island nation imports about 80 percent of its food, spending as much as $2 billion last year alone. The group’s president, James Williams, said Colorado’s council could help the state get a piece of that market.

Williams said Cuba’s interest in business ties with the United States goes beyond food. The island also is interested in getting help building a renewable energy industry, and has set a goal of generating up to 24 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, including building 13 wind facilities.

“It’s time to end 55 years of failed, isolationist policies toward Cuba,” Williams said. “Colorado businesses are stuck on the sidelines as our foreign competitors continue to take advantage of Cuba’s growing markets. Opening up trade with Cuba would provide tremendous opportunities for Colorado agriculture, manufacturing, technology and renewable energy sectors, and support Cuba’s growing private sector.”

Charles Ashby, The Daily Sentinel
August 8, 2016

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