How lift of U.S.-Cuba trade embargo could affect Michigan

Dairy could potentially be the lead export from Michigan to Cuba when the trade embargo is lifted between the U.S. and Cuba.

Michigan agricultural officials met, this week, to discuss the future of trade with Cuba.

In recent weeks, the Obama administration has taken steps to improve relations with the island nation. A trade embargo has been in place since 1960.

Federal government officials say it could be several years before trade between U.S. states and Cuba is plausible.

Until then, Michigan agriculture officials say they are exploring options to prepare for the embargo – one day – being lifted.

Jim Byrum is the President of Michigan Agri-Business Association.

“It’s also incumbent on us, and that’s why we are holding this precedent, to make sure that we carry the message that Michigan is open for business and that we want to do business with Cuba,” he said. “We’re going to start reaching out to those Cuban entities, we’re going to start exploring opportunities and see what types of things may happen.”

Byrum said Michigan is a leader in black bean production, and could one day be one of the state’s top exports to Cuba.

In addition to black beans, and fruit Byrum says, the state agriculture officials agreed that dairy products may be the biggest potential trade with Cuba.

Sheila Burkhardt is with the Michigan Milk Producers Association, and she said it’s like the dairy industry was meant to bring Michigan and Cuba together.

“Exports are contributing about twice as much new market growth from U.S. milk production than the domestic dairy market,” she said. “Due to the close proximity to the Cuban market, it’s an ideal market for the U.S. dairy market. Cuba currently imports $200 million worth of dairy products, but virtually none comes from the U.S. due to the restrictions that have been in place.”

Burkhardt said the Michigan Milk Producers Association is prepared to expand to Cuba.

Anyone’s guess is as good as any in terms of when the trade embargo will be lifted between the United States and Cuba. Some Michigan officials think, like Byrum with the Agri-Business Association, it’s only a matter of time before Michigan becomes a trade partner with Cuba.

“We’re confident that in the next few years, if we can lift the embargo, if we can enact even more policies to encourage work with the Cuban government and Cuban people, that we will see a robust trade develop with Cuba,” Byrum said.

To be clear, the embargo has not been lifted. Federal officials say it could be several years before that happens.

Posted by Anthony Rizzo, WCMU

January 26, 2015

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