Cuba Trade

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Einstein’s definition for insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. For more than half a century, America has maintained a trade embargo with Cuba aimed at breaking or weakening the Castro regime. It has become clear over the last several decades that the embargo has not weakened the regime but instead stifled American business opportunities. I don’t believe it makes sense to deny our farmers and ranchers access to Cuban markets, particularly when our continued insistence on maintaining the embargo yields the same lackluster result.

I’m not advocating for an immediate wholesale repeal of the embargo. I am skeptical this course of action will work, both politically and practically. A better approach is to make cautious and incremental changes to current Cuba policies in ways that benefit the United States and introduce the Cuban people to American products. A bill I have introduced, the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, repeals only the restrictions on financing and marketing that are currently harming US competitiveness in the Cuban market and limiting export potential.

Under current law, US producers are already permitted to export agricultural commodities to Cuba, but they must do so on a cash-for-crop basis. A cash-only requirement renders export transactions nearly impossible, as foreign importers almost exclusively do business on financing and credit. For that reason, Cubans are forced to buy agricultural products from across the Pacific Ocean from countries that not only charge more for their products but also have historically attempted to undermine American agricultural interests. For example, Cuba imports close to 400,000 tons of rice each year, largely from Vietnam, when they could be buying rice grown here in the United States and Arkansas. The US enjoys an inherent export advantage due to both our close geographic proximity and our state-of-the-art production and food distribution infrastructure.

Current laws and regulations also restrict the ability of Americans to invest in Cuban business. Most people think of all Cuban industry as being state-owned, but that is not entirely the case. Economic disaster became a cruel reality in Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union, so the government moved to privatize some industry segments by introducing market forces and incentives. Agriculture was one of the first industries over which the Cuban government relinquished some control, leading to the creation of agriculture cooperatives and small private farming. The Cuba Agricultural Exports Act would permit investment in these private enterprises, allowing American companies to contract and form joint ventures with private Cuban agribusiness. I believe these types of partnerships will help build a foundation of goodwill and cooperation that will open the door to long-sought reforms to Cuba the way American influence that brought them to other Communist states.

The Cuba Agricultural Exports Act would provide new economic opportunities and jobs for America’s agriculture industry by providing access to a market that is valued at over $1 billion per year. Arkansas producers have an opportunity to take advantage of this export market as soon as Congress implements common-sense changes to existing law. The Arkansas Farm Bureau understands this reality and firmly stands behind my proposal. I am also fortunate enough to be joined by Arkansas public servants, like Governor Hutchinson, Senator Boozman, and a majority of the State legislature, all working towards a shared goal of ending the failed embargo on Cuba that limits opportunity for farmers and ranchers.

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