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Senator pushes credit for Cuba

Senator pushes credit for Cuba
Export gain goal, Boozman asserts
By Glen Chase
This article was published April 23, 2015 at 2:15 a.m.

Cuba would be able to use credit to buy U.S. agricultural products such
as rice and chicken under legislation introduced Wednesday by U.S. Sens.
John Boozman, R-Ark., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

U.S. rules require Alimport, the state-owned firm that controls Cuba’s
agricultural imports, to pay cash for its purchases. The legislation
offered by Boozman and Heitkamp would allow private banks and companies
to offer credit terms for agricultural exports to Cuba.

Boozman said that even though Arkansas farmers would benefit by being
able to export to Cuba, they must first deal with commercial barriers
that resulted from federal laws restricting trade and financing, as well
as tourism and other commercial activities, with the island nation.

“Cuba represents a remarkable opportunity for American farmers, and it’s
also an opportunity for Cubans to gain access to safe, affordable and
high quality agriculture products from the United States,” Boozman said
in a release about the legislation.

Heitkamp said U.S. growers should be allowed to enter the Cuban market
and compete on an equal footing with producers from other countries.

“The biggest obstacle in that effort involves private companies and
banks not being able to provide credit to export agricultural
commodities to Cuba where these crops are in high demand,” Heitkamp said.

The legislation, titled the Agricultural Export Expansion Act, comes one
day after a hearing before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and
Forestry Committee on how easing the trade embargo would help U.S.
farmers and ranchers.

Terry Harris, vice president of Stuttgart-based Riceland Foods Inc.,
testified that the Cuban officials he’s spoken to aren’t interested in
purchasing U.S. rice right now. He attributed that to their overall
desire to end the trade embargo that’s been in place since 1960, when
the country was the No. 1 export destination for U.S. rice.

Arkansas produces just more than half of the nation’s rice crop.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that in 2014, Arkansas’ exported goods
were valued at $6.8 billion to markets around the world, including
chicken meat and parts worth $213 million as well as rice valued at $180
million. North Dakota exported agricultural commodities totaling $4.1

Arkansas rice growers produced 5.6 million tons of rice in 2014 — 50.6
percent of the 11.05 million tons produced nationally, according to the
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of that, about 5.25 million tons will be

Cuba buys most of its rice from Asian sources, mostly Vietnam. As some
of the world’s largest rice exporters, U.S. producers are hoping their
rice will be more competitively priced because of reduced transportation
costs. Cubans also prefer the long-grain variety of rice primarily grown
in Arkansas.

Arkansas Rice Farmers Chairman Dow Brantley of Lonoke said Boozman’s
bill would open credit options for rice producers and remove a trade
barrier with Cuba.

“I hope that Congress will see the financial logic in passing it,”
Brantley said. “It costs the U.S. nothing and provides us with
opportunities in an emerging export market for agriculture.”

In its latest Poultry Highlights report, released in May, the USDA’s
National Agricultural Statistics Service said poultry and eggs were the
largest agricultural products produced in the state in terms of cash
receipts in 2012, bringing in $3.7 billion, or 40 percent of the $9.4
billion in cash receipts from all agricultural products produced in
Arkansas that year.

And, Arkansas ranked second only to Georgia nationally in the value of
commercial broiler production in 2013, $3.6 billion to $4.6 billion,

In January, Boozman and other senators sponsored a bill to lift
restrictions on Americans who want to travel to Cuba.

Boozman spokesman Patrick Creamer said in an email that the senator
hasn’t spoken to the Obama administration about the bill. But, sponsors
are anticipating its support, given the president’s desire to normalize
relations and increase trade with Cuba.

Two other senators, Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., have
signed on as co-sponsors. Creamer said more co-sponsors are expected now
that the text of the law is available.

Creamer said it’s too soon to predict how the measure will be received
in the House if it gets through the Senate.

While “some resistance” is to be expected in both chambers, he said
senators and representatives are starting to see a need to change the
U.S.-Cuban relationship.

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., said he’s working on similar
legislation to open up Cuba to U.S. agricultural products.

Crawford, whose 1st Congressional District includes many of the state’s
eastern Delta counties, said producers currently can’t take advantage of
the Cuban market.

“I greatly appreciate Sen. Boozman’s leadership in tackling this issue
in the Senate by putting forward a legislative solution,” he wrote in an
email statement. “By working together to solve this problem, we hope to
find a solution that gains bipartisan support and provides the tools
exporters need to gain access to a valuable market for our producers.”

Business on 04/23/2015

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