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Governor seeks exports to Cuba

Governor seeks exports to Cuba
Posted on Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gov. Mike Beebe will headline a group of lawmakers, economic development
officials and business leaders seeking to sow seeds for future Arkansas
agricultural exports to Cuba in a three-day trip next week.

Cuba has been under a U.S. trade since October 1960, shortly
after took power there and months before he declared
communist rule. But, Beebe noted in a news release, "there are now
indications that these trade embargoes may soon be eased further or
lifted completely."

Beebe, along with fellow Democrats state Sen. Jim Luker of Wynne and
Rep. Robert Moore of Arkansas City, are to leave Tuesday for to
meet with Cuban trade officials. Morril Harriman, the governor's chief
of staff; Maria Haley, executive director of the Arkansas Economic
Development Commission; and officials with Riceland Foods Inc. and Tyson
Foods Inc. are also to go on the trip.

Before returning Thursday, Beebe plans to lay the founda- tion for new
export markets for , chicken and other agricultural products if the
embargo eases or disappears, said Matt DeCample, Beebe's spokesman.

Cuba will be Beebe's first official trip outside the United States,
DeCample said.

Riceland Foods officials will play an important role during the trip
because they have the most experience with the Cuban government, he said.

Moore has said the embargo has hurt his district in southeast Arkansas,
a center of rice cultivation.

"I think the general sentiment of the folks I represent and my own
personal political beliefs is that 50 years of embargo have not been
successful," Moore said.

The trip will be a good chance to "establish better relations" with
Cuban trade officials, Moore said.

"It's a neighbor so close that we've had such a cold relationship with,"
he said. "In my experience that's not the way to go about doing things."

Luker said the seven counties in his Senate district rely economically
on rice and other agricultural products.

"It's a bread-and-butter issue," he said, adding that the embargo has
outlived its usefulness. "Any rationale for it has long since gone away."

As a potential "emerging market," Joe Holmes, marketing director for the
Economic Development Commission, said Cuba could be an important trade

If the embargo is lifted or further eased, Holmes said, "We'll know who
to talk to."

Cuba, population 11.4 million, has a per-capita gross domestic product
of $9,500 a year, about $900 below the world average, according to 2008
statistics in "The CIA World Factbook."

Congress loosened rules on agricultural exports in 2000, but former
George W. Bush by an executive order tightened them again in
2005, requiring that shippers be paid cash or through third-country
banks in advance before trading with Cuba. That rule has restrained
agricultural exports, say many political leaders in the South.

DeCample said he didn't know Arkansas' share of rice and poultry
exports, but that U.S. rice trade had significantly declined since the
2005 restrictions while poultry exports continued to climb.

All but one state that borders the Gulf of Mexico supports easing trade
rules with Cuba, as reported by the Los Angeles Times in May. The
exception is Florida, home to a large population of Cuban-Americans,
historically opposed to any relations with Cuba as long as it remains

Arkansas congressional Democrats Marion Berry and Vic Snyder, who have
visited the island, have called for an end to the embargo. Sen. Blanche
Lincoln, also a Democrat, has criticized the restrictions and advocates
greater trade with Cuba. Democrat Mark Pryor, the state's junior U.S.
senator, also voiced support for greater trade.

U.S. Reps. Mike Ross, a Democrat, and John Boozman, a Republican, didn't
return phone calls Friday requesting comment.

In April, President Barack Obama relaxed restrictions on family travel
to Cuba and eased limits on money sent to family members there.

The state will pay for Beebe and Harriman to make the trip, DeCample
said. The estimated cost is $4,100 total, he said.

Haley's trip will be funded by the Economic Development Commission,
Holmes said.

Moore and Luker said they will pay their own way, if necessary, but
might be reimbursed by the state Department of .

No meetings are scheduled with Fidel or Raul Castro, De-Cample said.
Raul Castro assumed power after Fidel stepped down in 2008 because of

But Moore remained hopeful Friday of a meeting with one or both Castros.

"That would be a real nice sidebar to the trip," he said. :: Northwest Arkansas' News Source (25 July 2009)

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