Senator’s Bipartisan Bill Would Support ND Farmers & Ranchers; Follows Her Trip to Cuba in February 2014
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today announced that her bipartisan bill to help expand the export of North Dakota and American agricultural commodities to Cuba passed in a Senate committee – the final step before a vote in the full Senate.
The bill furthers Heitkamp’s more than year-long effort to boost agriculture exports in North Dakota – particularly pulse crops which are high demand in Cuba and a key part of the Cuban diet – while supporting the state’s farmers and growing the economy. Heitkamp’s legislation would ease a legal prohibition on providing credit for exports to Cuba, which is the biggest barrier agricultural exporters in North Dakota and the U.S. have faced when trying to export to Cuba. Her bill was incorporated into the financial services appropriations bill which today passed in the Senate Committee on Appropriations.
The legislation follows Heitkamp’s visit to Cuba in February 2014 where she discussed with Cuban agricultural trade officials the benefits of expanding agricultural exports from North Dakota to Cuba. In April, during a Senate Committee on Agriculture hearing, Heitkamp reinforced the need to expand U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba, stressing the importance of allowing access to credit so North Dakota producers can more easily export agricultural commodities to Cuba.
“As the U.S. normalizes relations with Cuba, we need to make sure American farmers are able to access that market,” said Heitkamp. “North Dakota farmers feed the world, but for too long they have been unable to export their products to Cuba, which is a prime market for them, because current rules restrict offering credit to export commodities to Cuba. The U.S. is just 90 miles from Cuba, but Cuba has been forced to buy its food from countries as far away as Vietnam instead of from North Dakota. When I visited Cuba last year, I spoke about the need to open up markets for agriculture sales from North Dakota to Cuba, and my bipartisan legislation would help make that possible – supporting North Dakota farmers and growing our economy by selling our crops to a market that wants to buy our products. Additionally, it could help increase sales opportunities for bean growers as prices have been depressed.”
The biggest barrier that agricultural exporters in North Dakota and throughout the United States have faced when trying to export to Cuba is a legal prohibition on providing credit for exports to Cuba. Heitkamp’s bipartisan legislation, which she introduced with Republican Senator John Boozman from Arkansas, would modify current law, lift the ban on private banks and companies offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba, and help level the playing field for exporters in North Dakota and across the country.
Currently, all U.S. exports to Cuba require cash payments up front while other nations around the world offer credit to Cuban importers, essentially preventing farmers and ranchers from being able to ship their products to Cuba. Heitkamp’s Agricultural Export Expansion Act would help level this playing field and remove the top barrier facing U.S. exporters of agricultural products to Cuba by changing a provision in current law that prohibits financing of exports to Cuba.
North Dakota is the 9th largest agriculture exporting state in the country, with an estimated $4.1 billion in commodities sold each year in foreign markets. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, North Dakota agricultural exports support about 27,000 jobs. Last December, Heitkamp highlighted how federal action that was taken would help support agricultural exports for North Dakota farmers. Additionally, she noted how the change in U.S.-Cuba policy would also support North Dakota’s economy and provide at least some relief to low American commodity prices by opening new markets.