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Farm states – Let us sell to Cuba

Farm states: Let us sell to Cuba
BY LESLEY CLARK AND LINDSAY WISE
McClatchy Washington BureauJanuary 7, 2015

WASHINGTON — Farm state lawmakers and agricultural groups are ramping up
efforts to lift the trade embargo against Cuba in the wake of President
Barack Obama’s decision to normalize diplomatic ties with Havana.

More than 25 food and agricultural interests including Cargill, the
National Chicken Council and the National Turkey Federation on Thursday
will announce a coalition aimed at pressing Congress to scrap the
embargo and open up the island to increased investment with the United
States.

Among the attendees at the rollout of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for
Cuba are Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Obama last month announced
that the U.S. will open an embassy in Cuba for the first time in 53
years, and his administration would ease some travel and trade restrictions.

Vilsack said last month that Obama’s decision will remove technical
barriers between U.S. and Cuban companies and create a “more efficient,
less burdensome opportunity for Cuba to buy U.S. agricultural products.”

But the presidential executive action does not affect the
congressional-imposed economic embargo against Cuba, which was tightened
in 1996 and imposes significant restrictions on companies seeking to do
business there.

Past efforts to ease trade and travel restrictions for U.S. farmers and
ranchers have languished in Congress, but backers believe momentum could
turn with Obama’s move.

“We know the president took it about as far as he could legally, but
he’s opened the doors to a deeper conversation on the embargo,” said the
group’s vice chairman, Paul Johnson. He said the group – formed last May
and now looking for momentum in Congress – will argue that opening ties
would boost U.S. companies, as well as help Cubans get more goods.

“If you improve trade with the United States, you’re going to create
more opportunities,” Johnson said.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who will attend the coalition’s rollout, said
lifting unilateral trade and travel restrictions would benefit farmers
and ranchers in his state. He notes a 2010 Texas A&M University study
that estimated easing restrictions and lifting the travel ban could
result in $365 million in additional sales of U.S. agricultural
commodities, boost the U.S. economy by $1.1 billion and creating 6,000
new jobs.

“Cuba imports the vast majority of its food, so when we don’t sell
agriculture products to Cuba, somebody else does,” said Moran.

Though the U.S. has allowed agricultural exports to Cuba since 2000,
exporters say financing restrictions, including a requirement that Cuba
pay on delivery or purchase, curbs competition for U.S. products.

The push to lift the trade ban may be a tough sell in Congress, where
several Republicans have vowed to challenge Obama’s overtures to Cuba.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said the U.S. should not revisit
relations with the Castro regime until there is democracy there.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who has vowed to block any potential U.S.
ambassador to Cuba, said the coalition is only the latest of several
failed attempts to end the embargo.

“Their interest is doing business in Cuba; my interest is the Cuban
people,” Rubio said. He said it would be premature to lift the embargo
before evidence of a democratic opening in Cuba.

He acknowledged that a number of his Republican colleagues want to end
the embargo, but he said he doesn’t think it will happen.

“I don’t believe they have the votes to pass that in the Senate,” he said.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, a director with the U.S.-Cuba Democracy
Political Action Committee, which lobbies Congress to retain U.S.
sanctions against Cuba, said similar efforts had failed when Democrats
held both chambers.

And Claver-Carone called it a fallacy that increasing U.S. sales would
benefit Cubans, noting that as the USDA has found, all U.S. agricultural
exports are channeled through the Cuban government’s Alimport agency.

“How is that trade with the Cuban people?” Claver-Carone said.

Obama last month said he didn’t expect the embargo to end swiftly,
telling reporters that “people are going to want to see how does this
move forward before there’s any serious debate about whether or not we
would make major shifts in the embargo.’

Among those expected at the press conference: Sen. Amy Klobuchar,
D-Minn., who has pushed to lift restrictions; Democratic Missouri Gov.
Jay Nixon and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.

The business rollout comes as Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said
Wednesday that she will travel to Cuba next month to explore how farmers
and other businesses in her state might benefit from opening Cuban
markets to U.S. agriculture products.

She told reporters that she had planned to travel to Cuba before Obama’s
announcement but feels “a sense of urgency now.” McCaskill said she
backs lifting the embargo, saying it hasn’t worked for the Cuban people.

And she noted that lifting the embargo, “from a selfish standpoint, it’s
terrific for Missouri agriculture.”

McCaskill said she plans to talk to the Department of Agriculture this
week about the opportunities for American exports in Cuba, in
preparation for her trip.

“I want to learn as much as I can about what barriers remain before I go
to Cuba and which commodities are most likely to have success in Cuba,”
she said.

The senator’s meetings during her visit next month will be set up by the
Center for Democracy in the Americas, a nonprofit advocacy group that
previously has paid for members of Congress to travel to Cuba, including
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.

McCaskill, however, said she will pay for her trip herself.

Source: WASHINGTON: Farm states: Let us sell to Cuba | National Politics
| The Sun Herald –
http://www.sunherald.com/2015/01/07/6005847_farm-states-let-us-sell-to-cuba.html?rh=1

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