Bill allowing private financing of food/agriculture exports to Cuba
introduced in Senate
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
Two farm state senators reintroduced a bill Thursday aimed at making
U.S. agricultural exports more competitive in the Cuban market by
allowing private financing of ag exports.
It was the first Cuba-related bill introduced since President Donald
Trump has been in the White House. Three Cuba-related bills were
reintroduced in the House in January before he took office.
North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and John Boozman, R-AZ, and
a bipartisan group of 12 senators reintroduced the Agricultural Export
Expansion Act, which would lift a ban on private banks and companies
offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba.
Current law requires upfront cash payments for agricultural exports to
the island, which farm state legislators say puts them at a disadvantage
when competing against exports from other countries whose exporters sell
to Cuba on credit.
"This small step would help level the playing field for American farmers
and exporters while simultaneously exposing Cubans to American ideals,
values and products. This bill is a win-win for American farmers and the
Cuban people." said Boozman.
"Our farmers rely on exports, and exports help create more American
jobs," said Heitkamp. "Cuba is a natural market for North Dakota crops
like dry beans, peas, and lentils, and there's no good reason for us to
restrict farmers' export opportunities—which support good-paying
American jobs—by continuing this outdated policy."
Since 2001 when the first exports of agricultural and food products were
allowed under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act,
more than $5.3 billion worth of U.S. agriculture products have been sent
to the island, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
In recent years such exports have dropped off from a high of $710.1
million in 2008 to $202.1 million last year. The main U.S. products
exported in 2016 were frozen chicken, corn, and soybeans and soybean
Cuba imports about $2 billion worth of food annually.
"Being able to sell our commodities to Cuba just as easily as we sell to
other markets like Mexico and Canada would be huge, especially for
U.S.-grown rice," said Jeff Rutledge, a Newport, Ark. rice farmer and
president of the Arkansas Rice Council.
Other factors that have impacted the level of U.S. food and agricultural
sales to Cuba have been Havana's lack of foreign exchange, shifting
commodity prices, restrictions based on an avian flu outbreak in the
United States that affected poultry exports in 2015, and a Cuban
government policy that at times has rewarded companies that lobby for
the lifting of the embargo.
Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Amy
Klobuchar (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Debbie
Stabenow (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Warner
(D-VA), Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) joined in
cosponsoring the agricultural financing bill, which was first introduced
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Source: Bill introduced to allow private financing of ag exports to Cuba
| Miami Herald -