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Is it time for U.S. to ease restrictions on farm trade with Cuba?

Is it time for U.S. to ease restrictions on farm trade with Cuba?

A handful of experts urged the House Committee on Agriculture on
Wednesday to loosen restrictions on farm trade with Cuba, as legislators
further contemplate U.S.-Cuba ties.

Four witnesses from the agricultural industry encouraged the committee
to support the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, a bill that would repeal
restrictions on export financing for agriculture shipments to Cuba.

“I believe the Cuban market holds great promise for U.S. farmers,” said
Mark Isbell, an Arkansas rice farmer who spoke on behalf of the USA Rice
Federation. “The obstacles we face in selling our rice to Cuba are
statutory obstacles. With your help, these obstacles can be overcome.”

Matt Gibson, vice president of Bunge North America Grain Division,
representing the North American Export Grain Association, argued that
the U.S. and Cuba’s views on trade “were aligned.”

“U.S. farmers want the freedom to sell their product into a market which
appreciates the high-quality products the United States has to offer.
And Cubans would like to buy high-quality ingredients at a competitive
price,” Gibson said. “Both seek access to markets.”

In an attempt to further normalize relations with Cuba, the Obama
administration expanded authorized travel to Cuba and lifted financing
restrictions on most exports in January. Agriculture, however, was
excluded. Exports still can’t be purchased with credit, only cash – a
factor that experts said impaired trade.

Mark Isbell, an Arkansas rice farmer who spoke on behalf of the USA Rice

“The Cubans need flexibility in attaining credit to purchase our
products,” Isbell said. “Globally, everyone has offered it to them
except for the U.S.”

This may change with the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, introduced to
the House of Representatives last October by Arkansas Republican Rep.
Rick Crawford. The bill is expected to be considered by the committee
before January.

Even with restrictions, exporting agriculture to Cuba is not a new
concept. Certain American agricultural and medical goods have been
approved for export since the Clinton administration passed the Trade
Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act in 2000.

Meanwhile, the only witness opposed to lifting sanctions, Mauricio
Claver-Carone, the executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates,
described Cuba’s government as a “company” that “values food over people.”

“Let’s debunk a myth,” Claver-Carone said. “Financing agricultural
transactions with Cuba isn’t about assisting small and midsize farmers
on the island, but about financing the monopoly of the Castro regime.”

Committee Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas, who presided over the hearing,
spoke in favor of lifting restrictions, despite being “firmly opposed to
lifting the embargo or restrictions on travel.”

“There lays an opportunity, albeit a rather narrow one, to make changes
that will positively benefit both agricultural producers at home while
contributing to economic growth in Cuba,” said Conaway, a Republican. He
co-sponsored the largely bipartisan Cuba Agricultural Exports Act along
with ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

“I think we all look forward to the day when the United States enjoys
full, normalized relations with Cuba,” Conaway said.

Sophie Ota: 202-383-6170

Source: cuba, ag, agriculture, farming, farm, rice, embargo, obama,
house, hearing, grain | In Cuba Today –

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