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Agriculture industry seeks Cuba openings

Agriculture industry seeks Cuba openings
Trade embargo remains in place
BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Jim Byrum has been barnstorming Cuba in hopes that he can establish
relationships that will give Michigan’s agricultural industry an early
foothold if and when the United States lifts a trade embargo with the
island nation.

Mr. Byrum, the president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association,
recently returned from his second trip to Cuba in the last six months.
Last week’s four-day trip had him and 21 others meeting with high-level
government officials and university personnel.

“It’s been a very wide-ranging discussion and we’re very pleased,” Mr.
Byrum said. “Our business there has been well received; lots of friendly
folks and friendly conversations. I think as we look to the future,
there’s going to be some great opportunity.”

As relations thaw between the United States and Cuba, industries of all
fashions are evaluating how they might benefit from access to a market
that’s been shut off from the states for more than a half century.

In the case of agriculture, Mr. Byrum said there are some natural fits.
For example, Michigan is the top producer of black beans in the United
States. The state also has strong fruit, dairy, and pork production.

“All those things are important there and we have a history in Michigan
of that kind of production and that kind of experience,” he said.

Currently, the 1962 trade embargo still prevents U.S. industries from
doing business in Cuba. Lifting that embargo would take an act of
Congress. Mr. Byrum said he and other U.S. agricultural industry
officials are trying to learn as much as they can.

Beyond exporting goods, U.S. farm businesses could potentially sell
equipment or help incorporate better seed and pest management methods.

Still, agricultural economists say it’s important to keep things in
perspective. Cuba is a nation of about 11 million people.

That’s about the same as Ohio, though Cuba’s economy is significantly
smaller. Matt Roberts, an agricultural economist at Ohio State
University, said Cuba’s economy would roughly equal that of metropolitan
Cleveland and metropolitan Columbus.

“That’s the size of the economy we would be normalizing trade with,” he
said. “The long and the short of it is it’s not really that big of a deal.”

Mr. Roberts said some particular segments of the industry will get a
nice boost, but opening Cuba isn’t going to make much of a difference to
U.S. agriculture on the whole.

Still, that’s not to say it doesn’t matter. Cuba is one of the last
completely untapped foreign markets, and every little bit helps. While
there are a handful of countries that are major customers — think
Canada, China, Japan — U.S. agricultural goods tend to be exported more
piecemeal. A little here, a little there.

Lots of people are hoping.

Earlier this year, nearly 100 industry representatives from across the
United States traveled to Cuba as part of a trade mission organized by
the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, which is pushing to end the
trade embargo.

The Ohio Farm Bureau wasn’t part of that trip, but officials at the
state’s largest farm organization are watching Cuba closely.

“We pay attention to all trade matters, and of course the opportunity to
open up new markets in Cuba is pretty exciting,” said Joe Cornely, a
spokesman for the group.

Mr. Cornely said poultry and pork farmers could be among the biggest
beneficiaries in Ohio.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com

Source: Agriculture industry seeks Cuba openings – Toledo Blade –
www.toledoblade.com/local/2015/10/06/Agriculture-industry-seeks-Cuba-openings.html

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