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Cooper reflects on agricultural trade mission to Cuba

Cooper reflects on agricultural trade mission to Cuba
By Bryan M. Gold – Citizen Staff Writer
Published: Friday, April 24, 2015 11:01 AM PDT

State Assembly Member Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) and Assembly Agriculture
Committee colleagues spent their spring recess in Cuba for a trade mission.

Cooper was among 27 legislators, government officials, academia, and
representatives of California’s agricultural industry that spent March
30 to April 3 in Cuba.

He said the state’s Central Valley produces 230 different commodities
that combine for 8 percent of the country’s agricultural output despite
using just 1 percent of the nation’s farmland. The assemblyman said the
area ships $17 billion in commodities every year.

“We feed California. We feed the nation,” Cooper said.

Sacramento County Farm Bureau Executive Director Charlotte Mitchell said
an agreement with Cuba could benefit local farmers.

“It’s really important for a viable ag industry that we’re able to take
the products that we have and have them for local markets but be able to
export them as well,” she said. “It means a great deal to our farmers
that these markets can open.”

She added, “These trade agreements, whether it’s with Cuba or Japan or
another Asia Pacific country, are critical markets for us. Those
countries want our products, and we want to be able to ship them there.”

Cooper said the local region produces more wine grapes than the Napa
area, and Mitchell said wine would likely be one of the biggest
commodities to go to Cuba once federal restrictions are lifted. She said
processed tomatoes and rice grown locally could also end up in the
island nation.

This delegation’s trip to Cuba occurred just before President Barack
Obama announced plans to remove that country from the U.S. list of state
sponsors of terrorism.

Obama on April 14 submitted the required documents to Congress,
indicating his intent to “normalize diplomatic, economic, and commercial
relations with the government of Cuba,” Assembly Agriculture Committee
Chair Henry T. Perea announced in a press release.

“With President Obama’s recent announcement that travel to Cuba will be
more lenient, it is important for California to engage Cuban leaders to
expand our economic relationships, and create new opportunities for
business, especially agricultural businesses in California,” Perea added.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a
hearing on opportunities and challenges for agriculture trade with Cuba
on April 21.

“We spoke to several Cuban economists, where they are, and where they’re
headed,” Cooper said. “So when the border does open up fully, we’re in
the position to allow our farmers and ag producers to succeed.”

Cooper, who is also an assistant majority whip as a freshman legislator,
said the trip also gave him a chance to develop personal relationships
with his Assembly colleagues.

“I got to know them on a different level. I think in the future it’s
going to help me be a better legislator,” he said. “When there’s a
personal touch, it makes (legislating) that much more meaningful.”

Mitchell said the local area would benefit since Cooper was part of the

“He’s in tune to our needs in agriculture,” she said. “That’s important,
because when you have a representative that understands the dynamics of
agriculture and the industry, it benefits us tremendously.”

Source: Elk Grove Citizen : News –

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