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Lawmakers yet to be sold on increased exports to Cuba

Lawmakers yet to be sold on increased exports to Cuba
By Spencer Chase

WASHINGTON, Sep. 9, 2015 – Some House members aren’t sold on the idea of
increased agricultural trade with Cuba, saying it wouldn’t do anything
to relieve human rights abuses in the communist country.
At a Wednesday hearing of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism,
Nonproliferation, and Trade, there wasn’t much disagreement that there
is potential in the Cuban market, but some lawmakers expressed
skepticism about benefits beyond a boost in exports.

Among them was Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who is not a member of
the subcommittee. Ros-Lehtinen, the first Cuban-American elected to
Congress, said the U.S. should be leery of current agricultural export
figures and look at a potentially bigger political picture.
“The Castro regime knows and understands the U.S. very well, and it is
purposely, I believe, dropping the amount of sales right now of U.S.
agricultural products so that the ag industry falls for this ruse and
advocates for loosening of sanctions and more concessions to the Castro
regime,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Loosening sanctions, she said, will not help the Cuban people, she said.
“It will only help fill the coffers of the monopolies that have been
created by the regime.”
Congress has allowed sales of certain agricultural and medical products
to Cuba since 2000. Farm sales reached almost $700 million in 2008, but
in 2014 totaled just $286 million, mostly poultry meat, soy products and
corn and feed.
Subcommittee member Joe Wilson, R-S.C., said there is already evidence
from other countries justifying the concerns of skeptics.
“It’s hard to believe the increased trade will help the Cuban people.
The evidence is clear: The Castro regime had 30 years of subsidized
trade with the Soviet Union and billions of dollars in European
investment, yet none of the profits made its way to the Cuban people,”
Wilson said. “What makes us think that adding U.S. to the equation would
be different except to prop up a corrupt dictatorship?”
Skepticism over the intentions of the Castro regime is not new, but it
has the potential to derail the Obama administration’s plan to lift
sanctions against the Caribbean country. Agricultural organizations have
been pushing for increased trade with Cuba since December, when
President Obama announced his intentions to lift the 50-year-old trade
embargo established by President John F. Kennedy.
Currently, agriculture goods sold to Cuba must be paid for fully in
advance in cash and the transaction must be handled by a state-owned
entity. Subcommittee Chairman Ted Poe, R-Texas, said he didn’t
understand why trade would be allowed, but be so restricted.
“This half-in, half-out trade environment doesn’t make much sense to
me,” Poe said in his opening statement. He argued U.S. exporters should
be allowed to sell products on credit, with the understanding that the
U.S. government won’t bail them out.
Poe pointed out the rice industry, which is prevalent in his district,
is one of many commodities that could benefit from increased trade with
Cuba. But reforms are needed to maximize that opportunity, he said.
“It’s clear our current policy when it comes to agriculture exports to
Cuba is not working,” Poe said, pointing out that Cuba, a nation of 11
million people just 90 miles off the Florida coast, is importing 70
percent of its food.
“By law, our farmers have the freedom to export to Cuba but in practice,
the government seems to get in the way.”

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Source: Lawmakers yet to be sold on increased exports to Cuba |
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