Iowa seeking Cuba trade relations

Iowa just can’t wait to be friends with Cuba.

This past month, Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, filed a resolution in the Iowa Legislature supporting an enhanced trade relationship between Cuba and Iowa.

The United State has a trade embargo on Cuba. President Obama is trying to normalize relations with the Caribbean country.

Cuba imports about 75 to 80 percent of goods for food needs, much of it being agriculture because of inadequate farming in that country. Iowa leads the nation in corn production and is second in the nation in soybean production, which was cited in Sodders’ resolution.

Several state senators and representatives are planning to take a trip to the Caribbean to visit Cuba, along with Marshalltown resident Carlos Cortés.

“We’re No. 1 in almost every one of those commodities,” Sodders said. “We want to show [Iowa’s] a welcoming place, [and] we want to work with [Cuba] in case at the federal level they really do open things up.”

But even with the urge, Iowa can’t make the decision on its own.

Brian Latell, a senior research associate with the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami, said he believes the embargo on Cuba will stay in place for a few more years.

This past month in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has begun trying to raise support to lift the Cuba embargo. Not everyone is on board.

Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has in the past been verbal in his to about restoring relations with Cuba.

There is a loophole, however, for Cuba to buy goods from the United States.

Since the early 2000s, Cuba could pay cash to buy American products, which had to be paid for before the shipment left the port.

In the past couple of years, the amount of commodities bought by Cuba has gone down, though. Other countries, such as Argentina and Brazil, have begun allowing Cuba to use credit to purchase products — leaving Cuba to take advantage of those opportunities.

“The Cubans are certainly interested in importing agricultural goods,” Latell said, noting that only Congress can lift the embargo. “There is a general movement to facilitate this.”

More than half of Americans are in favor of renewing diplomatic relations with Cuba in addition to ending the embargo. According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center in January, 63 percent of Americans support re-establishing affairs, and 66 percent want to end trade restrictions.
In that mix are farmers.

Russell Meade, Johnson County Farm Bureau board president and a corn farmer, said he thinks any Iowa farmer would welcome an opportunity for more enhanced trade with Cuba.

“We did have some shipments, but with the restrictions with how they bought it [with cash] created barriers,” Meade said. “If we can reduce restrictions with trade, we always feel like it’s positive for Iowa and the United States.”

Cattle farmer Steve Swenka, who usually exports his meat across the nation and has in the past exported cattle semen to Canada and New Zealand, said he would like the opportunity for more trade.

“Naturally, when you expand trade with any regions, it just opens up any market; in this case, it would be agriculture,” Swenka said. “The bigger picture in opening up trade with Cuba is opening for export masses of agricultural, as their country continues to develop. That is the big thing that will affect the masses in agriculture.”

By Rebecca Morin, The Daily Iowan

February 17, 2015

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