The first step in a long process that may end the 54 year old Cuban trade embargo with the US may have taken place last year. The debate over officially ending the embargo is expected to heat up soon (Photo from wptv.com)
A major market for American agricultural products lies 90 miles off the coast of Florida. However, thanks to a 54-year-old American embargo against Cuba, it’s very difficult for products to move back and forth between countries.
The first step in thawing relations between the two countries may have happened December 17 of last year. President Obama announced he would begin efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. Agriculture groups across the country took notice of a potential opportunity to expand exports to a country of 11 million people.
“What if corn exports to Cuba went from 137,000 tons to 900,000 tons?” Erick Erickson is Vice President of the US Grain Council, and said normalization would be a great opportunity for agriculture, and for Cuba as well.
“It’s got to be more cheap for Cuba to buy from America too,” said Erickson. “You can almost pack it in grocery bags and carry it across the water because it’s so close. It’s got to be cheaper than buying from overseas.”
Erick Erickson of the US Grains Council is in favor of ending the US Trade embargo with Cuba, and feels the opportunities for agricultural trade would be a boon for US producers (Photo from grains.org
Ag groups have been working on getting the embargo lifted for a long time.
“There’s a lot of controversy about the embargo,” said Erickson. “We didn’t do it with the Soviet Union, we didn’t do it with China, and other countries we’ve had issues with.”
Said Erickson, “The position of the US Grains Council is that removing trade barriers is good. Without trying to weigh in on all the other complicating issues, actions that remove trade barriers and open up the marketplace to work are a good thing for both sides of the equation.”
One of the newer groups formed to work on this issue is the US Ag Coalition for Cuba (USACC). The group is made up of more than 25 agribusiness groups from around the country, and their goal is a simple one: to urge repeal of the 1996 law that made permanent the sanctions on Cuba.
The US Ag Coalition for Cuba held a press conference on January 8 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to announce their formation.
“Through the formation of the USACC, we are re-energized,” said Devry Boughner Vorwerk, the USACC Chair. “We are re-energized to establish Cuba as a market for US food and agriculture products, and as an industry, we are re-energized to end the embargo.”
“The sanctions hurt the Cuban people, and harmful to our country,” said Vorwerk, the Director of International Relations for Cargill. “54 years of unilateral sanctions is an experiment that’s gone on too long. It’s a failed policy, and it’s time our two countries had a better option.”
US Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke at the press conference. He said President Obama’s announcement represents an opportunity for Cuban residents to gain control over their own lives.
US Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke at the US Ag Coalition for Cuba press conference, announcing major ag group’s intentions of pressing for the end of the US Trade Embargo with Cuba. The conference was covered by C-Span (photo from foodproductiondaily.org)
“It’s also an opportunity for America’s farmers and ranchers to sell goods in Cuba,” said Vilsack. “We’re removing some technical barriers between US and Cuban companies, and creating a far more efficient, and less burdensome, opportunity to buy US agricultural products.”
Said Vilsack, “Cuba imports roughly 80 percent of its food, which means there is significant economic potential for our producers. It’s a 1.7 billion dollar market.”
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon also spoke at the USACC press conference, and said American farmers face an uneven playing field when talking about Cuba.
“Because of current sanctions, American producers can only interact with Cuba through a complicated process that greatly limits our ability to sell goods,” said Governor Nixon. “It also stifles our ability to create jobs here, and bring more dollars home.”
Kansas Senator Jerry Moran spoke at the press conference, and said the US Sanctions haven’t worked, and it’s time for a change.
“In Kansas, we’ll try something once,” said Moran. “We don’t always expect it to be successful the first time. Kansans have enough common sense to know if you try something for 54 years, it’s time for something different.
If the goal is for the United States to change the relationship between Cuban citizens and their government, what we’ve been doing has not worked. It hasn’t worked because it’s unilateral. When we don’t trade with Cuba, it’s not that they’re not getting agricultural commodities. They’re getting them from somewhere else.”
The fight to normalize trade relations with Cuba will not be an easy one. Secretary Vilsack said the President has done all he can, and it’s time to engage Congress in the debate.
Erick Erickson, the VP of the National Grains Council, said, “The teeth of the embargo are congressionally mandated, so it’s not clear what Congress will do. Some in Congress have said this is a good idea, and some have said it’s a bad idea.”
Said Erickson, “The question is, will Congress decide they want to do anything to oppose this? Maybe they will, or maybe not. This is probably a long-term process the President has started, and it may not be done before he leaves office.”