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Trade with Cuba remains a priority for potato, wheat officials

Trade with Cuba remains a priority for potato, wheat officials
A team from Potatoes USA recently returned from an “informational
exchange mission” in Cuba.
John O’ConnellCapital Press
Published on May 1, 2017 10:06AM
Last changed on May 1, 2017 2:51PM

A team from Potatoes USA tours a potato field in Cuba. Cuba plans to
evaluate seed from the U.S. in trials this fall, though market
restrictions still make trade difficult.

DENVER — Though efforts to normalize trade relations with Cuba have been
in limbo under President Donald Trump, some potato and wheat industry
leaders have continued making inroads in the market.

A team of 16 board members, seed potato growers and agronomists,
representing Potatoes USA, recently returned from a five-day
“informational exchange mission” to Cuba. Kansas Wheat officials say
they’ve also been active in laying the groundwork for future trade
opportunities with Cuba.

The U.S. has had an embargo against Cuba for decades. Exceptions under a
2000 law allow for exporting U.S. food products and commodities into
Cuba — which have totaled more than $5.3 billion since Dec. 2001,
according to John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and
Economic Council Inc.

Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. entered discussions with Cuba
aimed at addressing trade barriers. Kaviluch explained the U.S. requires
Cuban buyers to pay cash rather than extending them credit, prohibits
Cuban businesses from having bank accounts in the U.S. and places
restrictions on the use of the U.S. dollar in transactions with Cuba.

Questions still linger about more than $1.8 billion still owed to U.S.
businesses who had assets taken after the Cuban Revolution. Food product
and agricultural commodities exported to Cuba are processed through the
Bureau of Industry and Security, under the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Kaviluch said another trade obstacle is that “Cuba is consistently late
in paying those who they owe money to.”

Kaviluch said Obama left office before the major questions were
resolved. Trump has voiced concerns about Obama’s Cuban policy, sending
a Twitter message in late November 2016: “If Cuba is unwilling to make a
better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban-American people and the U.S.
as a whole, I will terminate the deal.”

Laura Johnson, marketing bureau chief with the Idaho State Department of
Agriculture, said ISDA has added Cuba to the list of potential
destinations when it seeks industry input on state-sponsored trade
missions, though the industry chose Taiwan and Vietnam for the next
mission, scheduled for November.

Daniel Heady, director of governmental affairs with Kansas Wheat,
believes Trump will keep an open mind toward “finding the best deal
possible” with Cuba, which could represent a 50-million-bushel wheat
market. Kansas Wheat officials gave a Cuban team a tour of their state’s
wheat production last October and made their own trip to Cuba a month later.

“At this point, I think we’re probably in a holding pattern,” Heady
said. “That doesn’t mean doing outreach and still doing trade missions
and talking with people is a waste of time.”

Kansas Wheat supports a bill by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., to normalize
trade with Cuba, and also participates in coalitions advocating for the
cause — Engage Cuba and Agriculture Coalition for Cuba.

The Potatoes USA team visited Cuba on March 27-31, meeting with the
nation’s Ministry of Foreign Commercial Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture
and potato growers in the countryside. According to a press release, the
Cuban government hopes to revive its domestic potato industry, which has
declined significantly during the past two decades, and will need to
import high-quality seed. Potatoes are one of eight foods controlled by
the Cuban government for distribution and price.

The Cuban government hopes to conduct trials beginning this fall to
assess how U.S. seed varieties perform in their tropical climate,
according to the press release.

“Based on successes in the Dominican Republic and Central America,
Potatoes USA and the U.S. seed potato growers are confident U.S.
suppliers can provide potato seed to help improve yields in Cuba,”
Potatoes USA Chief Marketing Officer John Toaspern said in the press
release.

Source: Trade with Cuba remains a priority for potato, wheat officials –
– Capital Press –
www.capitalpress.com/Business/20170501/trade-with-cuba-remains-a-priority-for-potato-wheat-officials

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