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Iowans heading to Cuba to open trade doors

Iowans heading to Cuba to open trade doors
William Petroski, bpetrosk@dmreg.com 10:53 a.m. CDT June 17, 2015

Historic moves to restore diplomatic relations between the United States
and Cuba offer the potential to open trade doors with the communist
island nation, and Iowa government and business leaders are working to
seize advantage of the opportunity.

State Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, is organizing a weeklong Iowa
trade mission to Cuba in August, and the Greater Des Moines Partnership
plans to send a delegation there on a cultural exploration trip in
November for local business people.

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey says there is not a huge
potential for Iowa trade with the Caribbean country, but there is a
possibility to sell some Iowa grain, such as corn and soybeans and dried
distillers grain from ethanol plants, as well as Iowa meat, particularly
pork.

“I think Cuba offers a good market. They import a lot of ag products
from places other than the United States and we can replace some of
those exports from other countries,” said Northey, who has visited Cuba
in the past, although he is not joining Sodders on the upcoming trip.

The Iowa Senate approved a resolution in March in support of increased
Iowa trade with Cuba, and Sodders told the Des Moines Register this week
he plans to hand a copy of the document to Cuban government officials
when Iowans visit between Aug. 20-26. He said he is organizing a diverse
delegation that includes representatives from agriculture,
manufacturing, financial services and other industries.

Sodders said the idea of an Iowa trade mission to Cuban was proposed by
Carlos Portes, a native of Cuba who immigrated to Marshalltown in 1961
and later became a businessman in New York City with international ties.

“Cuban officials have indicated to us that they have a need for all
kinds of ag products, from tractors to seeds to expertise. We feel like,
‘Why not have Iowa first? We are No. 1 in all the ag areas that they
need,'” said Sodders, who plans to finance his trip with private funds.

Cuba, which was long led by Fidel Castro, is the largest nation in the
Caribbean, with a population of more than 11 million people. President
Barack Obama in December announced the beginning of a process to restore
full diplomatic relations with Cuba and to open an embassy in Havana for
the first time since 1961, when President Dwight Eisenhower severed
diplomatic ties between the two nations.

Sodders says Iowa has a long history of positive interactions with
non-democratic nations to the benefit of Iowa’s business interests
without embracing those nation’s political structures or approving human
rights violations. He noted the visit of Soviet Premier Nikita
Khrushchev to Iowa in 1959, and Iowa’s current relationship with
President Xi Jingping of the People’s Republic of China.

Meanwhile, the Greater Des Moines Partnership will be returning to Cuba
in November after a sold-out trip last fall with 70 people in
cooperation with the Ankeny and Urbandale chambers of commerce. The
upcoming partnership trip is officially billed as a cultural exploration
mission, but it will help connect local business people with a goal of
capitalizing on a better diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba, says
Partnership Chief Executive Officer Jay Byers.

“This is really geared to people who have not been in the market before,
to get an opportunity to learn more about it,” Byers said.

The Des Moines Partnership previously participated in Iowa trips to Cuba
in 2002 and 2003, which resulted in some success in signing contracts to
sell Iowa agricultural commodities, and there could be more
opportunities if U.S. trade restrictions with Cuban are completely
lifted, Byers said.

The seven-day Des Moines Partnership trip, which costs $3,599 per
person, will feature visits to a number of cultural destinations.
Destinations include the Plaza of the Revolution, the Marqueta Vieja
Havana Museum, the Cuban Literacy Museum, Hemingway’s Farm Finca La
Vigia, and the San Jose Craft Market and Art Center. Participants will
spend five nights in Havana, following one night in Miami.

Source: Iowans heading to Cuba to open trade doors –
http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2015/06/17/iowa-cuba-trade-mission/28862649/

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