In a statement to the press, Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation said, “Improving trade relations between the U.S. and Cuba will expand access to a market of 11 million consumers for U.S. agriculture,” explaining additionally, “Right now, U.S. farmers can export to Cuba, but third-party banking requirements and limited credit financing make it harder to compete in the market than it should be. We look forward to a prompt lifting of those restrictions.”
U.S. farmers, in fact, stopped selling rice to Cuba in 2008, as a result of these obstacles.
Stallman commented that many other countries have expanded relations and trade freely with Cuba, while U.S. farmers are at a disadvantage. He insisted that farmers and agricultural companies should have the opportunity to do so, as well.
The Farm Bureau Federation includes 28 of the country’s principal agricultural organizations representing producers of sorghum, soy, corn, milk and meat, among other food crops, including industry giants such as Cargill and Smithfield Foods.
Paul Johnson, president of Chicago Foods International LLC and vice president of the newly established U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba (USACC) commented that it will take some time for Congress to move on normalizing relations with Cuba, but that the blockade must be ended.
During the event launching the new organization, the Obama administration’s Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, emphasized opportunities for trade with Cuba, a market located just 140 kilometers from the United States.
The initiative comes just a month after President Obama announced a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, expressing his intention to begin the process of normalizing diplomatic relations between the two countries, and working with Congress to lift the blockade established in 1961.
“The policy changes announced by the President in mid-December broke with a failed approach that had isolated us from the rest of the hemisphere … They also expanded opportunities for America’s farmers and ranchers to sell goods in Cuba,” Vilsack said, adding that Cuba imports a significant amount of food, and represents a 1.7 billion dollar market.
Representing U.S. agri-business, especially in the Midwest, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon criticized the complicated bureaucratic process involved in trade with Cuba, describing restrictions as a “self-imposed obstacle.”
Nixon commented that Brazil’s exports to Cuba have quadrupled over the last decade, while Spain, Argentina and Canada are rapidly expanding their share of a market which has been closed to U.S. farmers and agri-business.
The battlefield now shifts to the U.S. Congress, which has the authority to lift the blockade or ease restrictions. Both the House and Senate are now controlled by Republicans, who in their majority oppose the change in policy toward Cuba made by Obama.