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Normalizing relations with Cuba could lead to more Illinois goods sold to island nation

Normalizing relations with Cuba could lead to more Illinois goods sold
to island nation
Published: Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015 11:24 p.m. CST
By JOSEPH BUSTOS – jbustos@shawmedia.com

For years, Illinois farmers have dreamed of making it easier to sell
corn and soybeans to Cuba. But with trade restrictions in place on the
communist country, selling goods has been difficult.

Easing of those rules potentially could happen after President Barack
Obama’s announcement of normalizing relations with Cuba.

The president also announced reforms that would make it easier for
Americans to travel to Cuba, allow Americans to use credit and debit
cards on the island, allowed for higher remittance amounts, and for U.S.
financial institutions to be able to open accounts in Cuban banks.

Obama also authorized increased telecommunications connections between
the two countries.

There is a U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, which requires an act of Congress
to be lifted.

The Illinois Farm Bureau has been pushing for the U.S. to allow for
easier trade with Cuba and was pleased with Obama’s announcement.

The farm bureau estimates agricultural exports, such as corn and
soybeans, from Illinois to Cuba could increase by $6.6 million, a 15
percent increase from Illinois exports to Cuba in 2009.

“It felt good the administration listened to us … and is taking long
overdue steps to move this relationship forward,” said Adam Nielsen, the
director of national legislation and policy development for the Illinois
Farm Bureau.

U.S. exports to Cuba have to be shipped under cash-in-advance terms or
be financed by a non-U.S./non-Cuban institution.

The restrictions were put in place under the George W. Bush
administration, which also tightened restrictions on travel and remittances.

Because of travel and trade restrictions with Cuba, the farm bureau
estimates $1.25 billion nationally is lost each year in agricultural
exports.

“They have the ability to purchase agricultural products, but it makes
it difficult for them to have cash in advance,” Nielsen said. “We
created such complex trading rules, it’s easier for them to purchase
rice from Vietnam, wheat from France, and corn and soybeans from Brazil.
This is a market that is 90 miles away. It’s so close, but yet so far.”

The farm bureau said most businesses that ship offer credit, which
allows them to be more competitive.

Nielsen added increasing the ability to sell goods to Cuba isn’t just
about making money.

“Our members don’t like to be told who you can trade with or travel to,”
Nielsen said.

Illinois stands to gain $10.9 million in additional business activity if
the Cuban market was opened up, the farm bureau says.

State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, visited Cuba twice in 2011, one trip
in hopes of increasing trade in the country, and one as a humanitarian
mission with his family.

He said he was happy with Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba.

“It’s about time,” Franks said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

He said further opening of trade with the country ultimately will help
improve conditions within Cuba, which has a poor human rights record.

“The argument that we shouldn’t trade with a communist country falls
flat when our largest trading partner is China,” Franks said. “The best
way to open up a closed country is to trade with them.”

“Economic sanctions don’t work, not in the long run, they just don’t do
it,” he added.

One of Franks’ trips to Cuba was to learn how to increase trade with the
country.

After Gov. George Ryan’s visit to the country in 1999, exports from
Illinois to Cuba did go up, but later went down. Franks found there were
impediments in place that made it hard for Illinois goods to make it to
Cuba.

“I want our goods being sold,” Franks said. “Agriculture is the driving
force in Illinois.”

U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Hinsdale, spoke out against the normalizing of
relations with Cuba.

He said the U.S. should wait until Cuba releases its political
prisoners, restores a free press and allows for unions.

“This is the Castro regime that is very deeply connected with
international arms smuggling,” Roskam said, referring to the 2013
incident where a North Korean ship was caught with Cuban weapons.

Roskam said part of the success with bringing down the Soviet Union was
clarity. President Ronald Reagan calling the Soviet Union an evil empire
gave hope to prisoners within the Soviet Union.

Roskam said the U.S. needs to be faithful to Cuban prisoners.

“Lifting the embargo and embracing the Castros … is not the recipe for
success,” he said.

Roskam said issues of political prisoners, allowing for a free press and
security concerns are more pressing.

“All those things suggest there are things that are bigger than a market
and more important than a market,” Roskam said.
Source: Normalizing relations with Cuba could lead to more Illinois
goods sold to island nation | Northwest Herald –
http://www.nwherald.com/2015/01/07/normalizing-relations-with-cuba-could-lead-to-more-illinois-goods-sold-to-island-nation/ajq2avi/

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