Minnesota takes second trade mission to Cuba

It’s a debate that is guaranteed to incite emotions, both for and against. Increasing trade opportunities with Cuba is a hot button topic in Washington D.C., but it’s an important topic for agriculture. Minnesota is one state in the Union that recognizes the opportunities in Cuba. Several state officials and Ag groups took part in a recent June trade mission to our neighbors 90 miles to the south of Florida.

The timing felt a little ironic. Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith put the trip together months ago as a follow-up to a recent state trip to Cuba last December. The Friday before the delegation arrived in Cuba on the most trade mission, President Donald Trump decided to roll back some of the Obama-era regulatory moves that opened up opportunities for the countries to do business. That made the trip a little more important in the minds of Minnesota officials and Ag groups.

trade opportunities Cuba

Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap was a member of the recent Minnesota delegation to travel to Cuba to talk about increasing trade opportunities between the state and the island nation 90 miles south of Cuba. (contributed photo)

“It (Trump’s announcement) didn’t change any of our goals going down there,” said Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap, a member of the delegation, “but it certainly ratcheted up the importance of our being there. We were the first Ag trade team down there after the Trump announcement, so everybody down there was aware of it.”

Paap said it was a vital opportunity for Minnesota to highlight the importance for agriculture that the countries continue to work together to become better neighbors and trading partners. It was also an opportunity to do what they could politically to help change the situation.

That was vital because Minnesota and Cuba have been doing business for some time, dating back to 2002 when then-Governor Jesse Ventura hosted the first big trade mission to Cuba. That’s where things began to really take off with trade reaching a high water mark between Cuba and Minnesota, but things have been tailing off for the last few years. The potential is there for things to improve.

“We have to understand,” Paap said, “they aren’t the biggest market, but it is an important market and a close market. It’s important to remember when dealing with perishable goods, in terms of quality and price, distance has a negative effect on all that. We should be able to beat everyone else on quality, price, and transportation.”

Despite some of the rhetoric people may hear when talking about Cuba, it’s important to note that the people of Cuba are enthusiastic about possibly trading with America.

 

The opportunities are there in Cuba for commodities like corn, soy products, black beans, dried beans, and some livestock opportunities too. He said there are things Cuba just can’t produce on their own.

“They have a lot of silt in their soils with not much in the way of organic matter,” Paap said. “They really haven’t put down a lot of nutrients into the soil in the last 50 years or so. There are some tillable acres in the country but it’s just not high quality.”

It’s not just the soils. Farmers in Cuba are working with a lack of modern equipment that American farmers are used to. A Cuban farmer used a one-bottom plow and two oxen to work one of the fields Paap saw during the trip. He says it seems like the country is locked in time decades in the past.

A trade mission like this always has two goals at the top of mind. Obviously, one goal is to do business but the other, and more important, goal is to build relationships.

“When you deal with an international trade mission, it’s always about building relationships before doing business,” Paap said. “We (Americans) probably aren’t as aware of that when you talk about dealing with other countries. You have to have a relationship. There has to be a reason for doing business besides dollars and cents.”

That’s hugely important and not just in Cuba. It’s the same if you’re talking trade with Asian countries or anyplace else in the world. The trip was a big opportunity to make sure the Cuban people understood the importance America placed on the relationship in light of the Trump announcement.

“It was a chance for us to say agriculture worked hard to make sure it wasn’t affected by the Trump announcement,” Paap stressed. “When it comes to the changes by President Trump, we weren’t as affected by those as others were and we wanted the Cubans to see that as a good sign.”

It was a chance for Minnesota to also point out they have two “champions” for trade with Cuba in Senator Amy Klobuchar and Representative Tom Emmer, working in a bipartisan manner on the topic for a long time.

The delegation went face-to-face with a lot of different people while they were in the country and Paap said it ran the gamut.

 

 

One of the most interesting changes in Cuba has to do with how they deal with foreigners. As recently as the mid-1990s, Cuban farmers weren’t allowed by law to even talk to people from outside the country, even those on a trade mission. Now, everyday people in Cuba told the delegation members that they’re hoping to get some help from the USA.

 

 

It’s not the biggest market but there are opportunities there. Paap and the American delegation were walking into the Ministry of Agriculture to meet with Cuban officials and a Chinese trade delegation was walking out at the same time.

“If we’re going to choose not to be there and involved in infrastructure upgrades, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen,” Paap said. “There’s a lot of countries putting some money into the country. Even Minnesota Ag Commissioner Dave Fredrickson (who was on the first trade mission) said it was amazing how much the country had changed, even since last December.”

There’s a lot of work to do to improve the lives of the average Cuban who earns between 20 and 24 dollars a month. Paap is a farmer in Blue Earth County and his Cuban counterparts have lots of questions for the American farmers on the trip.

“I always make sure and bring along a picture book,” Paap said, “especially when there’s a language barrier. There was a lot of interest in that. They had a lot of livestock questions about pigs and what we feed them and how heavy they are. They had a lot of questions about things like rainfall and crop yields. We had a lot of great farmer-to-farmer conversations.”

Cubans understand there are things they can’t grow in their fields. Paap wants to know why wouldn’t we want to sell Ag commodities to a country that’s only 90 miles south of America. After all, farmers understand logistics and travel better than most. Farmers realized a long time ago the value of working together, and that the people you work the best with are likely those closest to you.

The biggest obstacle for agriculture to overcome in order to improve trade with Cuba is the financing mechanism. In order for America to sell agricultural products to Cuba, the buyers have to come up with all the cash up front through a third party. That’s a big disadvantage when America’s competitors are more than happy to offer financing.

“That’s where the work of Senator Klobuchar and Congressman Emmer comes in to help try to get rid of some of those requirements,” Paap says. “That would make us a more desirable trading partner as well as the closest.”

Sonny Perdue confirmed as next Secretary of Agriculture

Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture “The Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) thanks Senator Klobuchar and Senator Franken for voting for Governor Sonny Perdue’s confirmation as the next U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary of Agriculture,” said MFBF President Kevin Paap. “Secretary Perdue is a needed voice for agriculture as the new administration addresses issues like trade, regulatory reform, agriculture labor and the next farm bill. We look forward to working with the new Secretary to address issues facing Minnesota farmers and ranchers.”

Secretary of Agriculture

A late-afternoon confirmation vote on Monday means Sonny Perdue is finally Donald Trump’s new Secretary of Agriculture. (photo from the washingtonpost.com)

“Now that we have our Secretary of Agriculture in place, we look forward to getting down to business to address serious issues that the Secretary has committed to working on as well as filling other key roles in the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” said Paap.

 

Minnesota Farm Bureau – Farmers ● Families ● Food is comprised of 78 local Farm Bureau associations across Minnesota. Members make their views known to political leaders, state government officials, special interest groups and the general public. Programs for young farmers and ranchers develop leadership skills and improve farm management. Promotion and Education Committee members work with programs such as Ag in the Classroom and safety education for children. Join Farm Bureau today and support efforts to serve as an advocate for rural Minnesota, www.fbmn.org.

 

For more information on the Minnesota Farm Bureau log onto www.fbmn.org, www.Facebook.com/MNFarmBureau or www.Twitter.com/MNFarmBureau.

Farm Bureau President Duvall Talks Ag Issues

The 98th American Farm Bureau annual convention is going on this week in Phoenix, Arizona. Once a year, Farm Bureau members come together in one location to learn and talk about the future of agriculture. Farm Bureau voting delegates will also debate policy and put together the Farm Bureau policy platform on important Ag issues for the coming year.

Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall talks Ag issues

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall addresses reporters during a press conference at the 98th Farm Bureau annual convention in Phoenix, Arizona. (photo from oklahomafarmreport.com)

Farm Bureau President and Georgia farmer Zippy Duvall spoke to reporters on Sunday during a press conference in Phoenix, tackling several issues important to agriculture. One of the first questions dealt with the lengthy search for the next Secretary of Agriculture. Duvall wanted the candidate selected a little quicker, although he seems encouraged by the fact that the Trump team has interviewed a good number of excellent candidates. What happens if the President-elect would happen to pick someone who doesn’t have an extensive Ag background?

“At this point, I’m not worried,” Duvall said, “I have full faith in the new president picking the right person. He’s looked at many different people, a lot more than we expected him to look at. We just think he’s doing a thorough review.”

 

 

As far as the reason it’s taken so long? Duvall said he honestly isn’t sure and anything he would add is speculation. “I’m honestly not sure whether he’s had people who just weren’t interested,” Duvall said, “or whether he’s had so many good candidates he can’t really pick which one he wants.”

 

 

 

One of Trump’s main talking points in the campaign was building a wall along the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico to help control illegal immigration. A good number of those same immigrants are vital to agriculture getting its work done every year. Immigration will be one of the biggest ag issues the Farm Bureau will keep an eye on in 2017. Duvall is hoping some kind of compromise on immigration can be reached so agriculture isn’t short on labor, especially at harvest time.

 

“If you look at the increase in H2A applications over the last few years,” Duvall said, “we’ve had a tremendous increase in that area. The demand for workers is there and we also know that the American people aren’t going to do that work, otherwise, they already would have started.”

 

 

 

He adds, “We want to give them an opportunity to stay here and work. It comes down to a moral and a safety issue. Their families are here and we have to do the right thing.”

 

 

 

Trade will be another of the biggest ag issues to keep an eye on this year. One of the biggest concerns agriculture has with the incoming president is his stance against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and trade agreements in general. Duvall says after talking with the Trump team, the President-elect has a better understanding of how important trade is to agriculture.

 

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to sit down with the Trump team and talk about the workings of a trade treaty that is friendly to agriculture,” Duvall said. “My discussions with the Trump team before the election went like this: ‘we’re concerned about Mr. Trump’s opinion on trade.’ That’s what we told them. He seems to be negative on trade  and agriculture is very dependent on it for up to 30% of our income.”

 

 

 

“This won’t be the first time a new president appeared to put us (Ag) at risk,” Duvall added. “Yes, we are nervous about that (trade wars). We do want America to stand up and have a backbone, but you have to be really careful about how you do that because you could destroy our industry if you don’t do it right.”

 

He added, “We’re there at the table trying to have those conversations.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ag has trade questions for the new administration

Let’s go ahead and talk trade headlines from the latest edition of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting News Service headlines:

Trump Election Leaves Agriculture Awaiting Clarification on Issues

rabobank-logo-squircle-jpgA new report from Rabobank says the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States has the food and agriculture sector awaiting clarification on his policies and positions. The Rabobank Food and Agribusiness Research and Advisory group authored the report on the possible implications of the election. Rabobank analysts say Republican-controlled Executive and Legislative branches could “mean swift action when the new administration takes office.” Rabobank notes the advisory group is watching trade, labor and farm bill talks for potential policy changes that could have longer-term implications on the industry. The report says while President-elect Trump’s policies are yet to be clearly defined, his statements during the campaign suggest drastic changes from current policy could be on the horizon. Finally, the report predicts agriculture markets may be impacted by foreign exchange volatility in the short term as Trump takes office in January.

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New Zealand Wants to Talk Trade with Trump

Trade

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key wants to talk trade with President-elect Donald Trump as he prepares to take office in 2017.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key wants to talk trade issues with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. In a phone call between the two this week, Key told Trump he wished to talk further about trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Key told Radio New Zealand that TPP was “worthy of a much fuller discussion,” adding that Trump needs the chance to get a proper assessment before seeing how “we can move things forward.” The Prime Minister said Trump was not rejecting the notion. New Zealand indicated the nation would give the new U.S. administration time to fully consider its trade agenda. That comes after New Zealand’s Parliament approved legislation last week allowing the nation to join TPP, despite the likelihood the trade deal will not proceed.

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Canada Cattle Producers urge Trade Fight if Trump Revives COOL

country-of-originCattle producers from Canada will urge the nation to retaliate against the United States, should U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump revive the U.S. Country-of-Origin meat labeling program (COOL). An internal memo within Trump’s transition team detailed how the new administration would immediately initiate changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, according to Reuters. That could include measures on COOL, which would reignite a six-year trade battle between the U.S. and Canada. U.S. lawmakers repealed COOL last December after the World Trade Organization approved more than $10 billion in trade retaliations by Canada. Canadian Cattlemen’s Association spokesperson John Masswohl says: “We’re watching, and if we think it discriminates against our cattle, our recommendation is going to be that tariffs go into place immediately.” However, he added that until it’s clear how Trump might approach COOL, no action is necessary.

One of the bigger post-election questions is the North American Free Trade Agreement. President-elect Trump feels it needs to be renegotiated with Canada and Mexico. Cuba is another country that agriculture groups want to open up to free trade opportunities. A group of US farmers and congressmen went to Cuba to lobby for agricultural trade about a year ago:

American politics and compromise: what happened?

American politics.  Guaranteed to raise the stress level in any conversation by at least tenfold.

Political polarization and the resulting inability of people with differing ideologies to compromise have brought progress in the United States to a screeching halt.

The public is bombarded with news stories every day that detail immigration concerns, gun control questions, ISIS, and so many other problems it gets overwhelming at times. So many problems to solve, and so little time. So, why can’t we climb these mountains?

American Politics

Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., where the political divide has never been larger, and the need for compromise and the lost art of the deal has never been more needed. (Photo from the Huffington Post)

Politics and philosophical ideologies have divided this country like never before. Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers, Libertarians, and more all have ideas on how to get things done. What they aren’t recognizing is their way might not be the right way. That fact doesn’t seem to matter. It’s “my way or the highway.” My ideology is completely right, and yours is completely wrong because it disagrees with mine.

 

American politics and social media

Facebook, and other forms of social media, offer a platform for sharing political views, but the resulting comments underneath the post offer a whole lot of people you may or may not know a chance for serious rebuttal, if not downright arguments.

Social media may bear part of the blame. Have you read some of the discussion threads on Facebook regarding immigration? How about the threads on ISIS and how to deal with that very real threat? You see behavior on these threads that would put children in daycare timeout immediately. Arguing, name-calling, cursing, lying, and other general misbehavior abound. While we sit and argue in a virtual world, problems don’t get solved in the real one.

What happened to compromise? What happened to “if everyone gives a little bit, we all can gain a lot?” Aren’t we all on the same team here?

Leadership and the art of compromise are compatible terms, aren’t they? You really can’t have one without the other.

Maybe businessmen and women might be the right ones to send to Washington to lead this country? After all, you don’t succeed in business and make deals if you don’t know how to compromise, right? Giving up a little something to the customer can often close a deal, right?

I am in no way endorsing Donald Trump as the next President. Let’s get that out of the way. But I did find something he said more than a little interesting.

The dailybeast.com website detailed a meeting hosted by a group called No Labels, a central-leaning political group that brought together a handful of presidential hopefuls, who each gave a speech before the members.

The website points out, correctly, that divisions in Washington are bigger than ever. Trump was quoted as saying, “Compromise is not a dirty word.” As stubborn as Trump is known to be, that might be a surprise to you, because it was to me.

As an example, Trump offered a story in which he brokered a deal between politicians and unions in New York City to help finish an ice skating rink in Central Park. The project had suffered from mismanagement for years.

Trump said, “It’s (compromise) in all the business schools. They study it. I didn’t learn it – I did it.”

The dailybeast.com writer called Trump “someone who wouldn’t simply untie the Gordian knot, but one who would cut right through it.”

What would life be like if we would just talk to each other. What if we relearned how to compromise?

Does the voting public deserve some blame for the gridlock in Washington? Probably.

Craig Chamberlain made a good point in an article on the University of Illinois website.   He said, for the most part, Americans tell pollsters that they are moderate on most of the important issues and they want the people they send to Washington to compromise and get things done.

Voting and American politics

Are Americans perpetuating the polarization in Washington by sending ideologically extreme candidates to D.C. every two years? (photo from huffingtonpost.com)

But, in the same breath, Chamberlain said American voters help perpetuate polarization in D.C. by continuing to elect ideologically extreme representatives. We don’t seem to learn from our mistakes. How many times have we seen extreme polarization make it difficult, or even impossible, to get things done for the good of our country?

I really thought Jim Totcke hit the nail on the head in a letter to the Editor on the havasunews.com website. He said, “Contrary to what the political parties in Washington might believe, compromise is what reasonable, civil people must do in a civil society.” When did we forget that?

Here is an even better point: Totcke said, “No single political party has a monopoly on good ideas. Why not utilize the best and brightest of both parties?”

Given the current polarization of politics, and the actual dislike that members of one party have for the other, it may be hard to believe we’ve seen genuine efforts to reach across the divide in the past. Believe it nor not, we have.

Dave Spencer is the founder of a group called Practically Republican, and he wrote a piece on the huffingtonpost.com website. He offered up Ronald Reagan, who many in the Republican Party consider a standard bearer for all that’s right in the Party, as an example of just how different things have become.

You’ve heard the term RINO, or Republicans In Name Only, in today’s political vernacular? Spencer said Reagan wouldn’t even qualify as a “real Republican” by today’s standards. He did lower taxes his first year in the Oval Office, but raised them four times during the rest of his tenure. He backed gun control. He was the first President to host an openly gay couple for an overnight stay at the White House.

Most notably, Reagan was noted for talking to the other side of the political aisle on the regular basis. Even though he may not have done precisely what the Democrats wanted, he genuinely listened, and that gave him a lot of credibility.

In a piece titled “Death of Horse-Trading on the Hill,” CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash pointed out that the 2015 Congress contained more than 40 Senators had served 4 years or less. Bash called it a, “Lack of experience in the art of legislating – knowing what it means to give a little to get a little.”

It’s time to act like adults, and not bickering children who have to have everything their way. It’s not too late, yet.