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2nd try set on credit for Cuba

2nd try set on credit for Cuba
By Frank E. Lockwood
This article was originally published January 14, 2017 at 2:53 a.m.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford on Friday reintroduced legislation
that would allow farmers to extend credit to Cuban clients, a move
favored by Arkansas rice producers, chicken growers and other
agricultural groups.

With former President Fidel Castro gone and the inauguration of
President-elect Donald Trump nearing, supporters are hopeful that the
Cold War-related restrictions on commerce finally will be lifted.

“I think what you’re going to see is a groundswell that continues to
build,” said Crawford, a Republican from Jonesboro.

Crawford also co-sponsors legislation introduced Wednesday by U.S. Rep.
Tom Emmer, R-Minn., that would end the half-century-old trade embargo.

Thursday, the Arkansas Farm Bureau and Arkansas Rice Council joined
scores of other organizations in urging Trump to allow free trade
between the two nations. The letter asked the New York Republican to
remove business barriers, emphasizing the need for the agricultural
credit ban to be removed.

One day later, Crawford filed HR525, the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act,
listing more than two dozen co-sponsors.

“We have just a tremendous amount of support in the ag industry, almost
100 percent across-the-board support for this,” said Crawford.

The legislation mirrors similar legislation that he filed last year.
“It’s virtually identical. For all intents and purposes, it’s the same
bill,” he said.

Opposition, especially from leaders in the Cuban-American community,
kept it from advancing last year.

But two developments in November may help break the impasse: On Nov. 8,
Trump was elected president and on Nov. 25, Castro, Cuba’s top communist
revolutionary, died.

“I think you’re dealing with a whole new set of variables and a whole
new dynamic in both nations,” Crawford said.

He’s hoping that, come Friday, the White House will back his bill.

“Donald Trump, President Trump, he’s a businessman. He recognizes a good
opportunity when he sees one and I think he’ll view it in that context
and I think we’ll be able to move this thing,” he said.

The federal government now bars farmers from extending credit to Cuban
purchasers. As a result, Cubans must provide “cash in advance” whenever
they purchase U.S. agricultural products. Crawford’s legislation would
allow credit to be extended.

The legislation also would allow Americans to invest in Cuban
agricultural businesses that are not controlled by the government there.

Those extending credit or making investments wouldn’t get bailed out by
the U.S. government if the bills go unpaid or the ventures fail.

“There’s no taxpayer backstop on this. The U.S. government is not going
to subsidize these business transactions with private sector entities,”
Crawford said. “If an American entity wants to take that risk, they’ll
have the flexibility and the freedom to do that now. … It’s not the
taxpayer who will be on the hook for it. It’s strictly the private
sector at work. “

Increased trade, Crawford says, would benefit Arkansas businesses.

The state produces roughly half of the nation’s rice, and most of that
is grown in Crawford’s district. Arkansas also is one of the country’s
largest poultry producers, along with Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina.

Chicken and rice are dietary staples in Cuba, population 11.3 million,
and Natural State farmers say they are eager to do business there.

Before the rise of Castro, the U.S. was a major supplier of rice to
Cuba. But the trade ended with the implementation of an economic embargo
by the United States in the early 1960s.

Restrictions on the sale of certain agricultural products were eased
during President Bill Clinton’s administration, and by 2004 U.S. rice
sales reached $64 million. The exports ended, however, after the U.S.
government barred farmers from extending credit to Cuban purchasers.

Over the past two years, President Barack Obama has taken steps to
normalize relations between the United States and its communist
neighbor, opening an embassy in Havana, adding daily flights, removing
barriers to travel and allowing increased imports of Cuban cigars and rum.

This week, Obama also announced that he would end federal policies that
allowed any Cuban setting foot in the United States to stay.

The prohibition on agriculture credit, however, remains.

Friday, agricultural leaders said they’re eager to compete in a country
that imports $2 billion in agricultural products every year.

“We want to see trade with Cuba. We think it’s a great market for us, so
we’re doing everything we can to try to get that trade opened up,” said
Arkansas Farm Bureau President Randy Veach.

For trade to flourish, however, the prohibitions on credit must be
lifted, he said. “That’s one of the basic things that we’ve got to get
done. It’s actually one of the most important things,” he added.

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, said Thursday’s letter to
Trump shows that there is broad support for increasing trade between the
two countries.

The Washington-based nonprofit group, which has made ending the credit
ban one of its policy priorities, describes itself as “the leading
coalition of private companies and organizations working to end the
travel and trade embargo in Cuba.”

“The American agriculture community, and Arkansas is a leader in this,
is unified in pushing President-elect Trump to support American
agriculture by maintaining and expanding trade in Cuba,” he said.

Williams said his coalition was “firmly supportive” of Crawford’s
legislation when it was introduced the first time and will continue to
work to eliminate barriers to U.S. agriculture sales in Cuba.

Source: 2nd try set on credit for Cuba –
www.arkansasonline.com/news/2017/jan/14/2nd-try-set-on-credit-for-cuba-20170114/?f=news-arkansas

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