February 24, 2020

Update on Cuba Trade Issues

Nick Miroff reported on Tuesday at The Washington Post Online that, “Cuba policy sometimes makes strange bedfellows, which is how a man like Thomas Marten, a burly Illinois soybean farmer with a bushy red beard, had come to Havana to make a statement about the principles of free enterprise. ‘As a Republican, I believe in trade for the betterment of all people,’ he said, as he rushed to another business meeting with communist officials. ‘Prohibiting it is something that hurts us all.'”

The Post article noted that, “Over the years, no country in the world has triggered more U.S. government penalties and fines on private businesses than Cuba, and Marten had come to Havana with nearly 100 other American farmers, farm lobbyists and former U.S. agriculture officials looking to throw a little weight behind a new push against those sanctions.

“Calling itself the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, the group isn’t shy about its interest in selling more American food to the communist government, but its members also appear sincerely interested in helping the island’s small farmers after decades of technological isolation and the disastrous legacy of state-run agriculture.”

Mr. Miroff explained that, “The Cuba effort isn’t a new one for the farm lobby. But after Obama’s announcement, it had produced a new enthusiasm, said the group, telling foreign reporters and television cameras from Cuban state media that supporters of the embargo in Congress were ‘a minority.’

“Lawmakers have offered new proposals to lift U.S. trade and travel restrictions on Cuba, but it’s unclear whether Republican leaders will allow the measures to come up for a vote.”

The Post article added that, “American food sales to the island peaked at more than $700 million in 2008, according to trade figures. That made the United States one of Cuba’s largest trading partners at the time, despite the sanctions.

“But because the U.S. sanctions limit the sales to a cash-only basis and bar U.S. banks from financing the sales, Havana has increasingly looked elsewhere to cover its import needs. Last year the Castro government spent less than $300 million on U.S. food, mostly frozen chicken and soybeans.

“Cuba has stopped buying U.S. wheat entirely, and rice shipments have plunged as well, the farm group said.”

Last month, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) introduced the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act with Senators Mike Enzi (R, Wyo.), Ag Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.), Pat Leahy (D., Vt.), and Dick Durbin (D., Il.). “This bill lifts the trade embargo on Cuba and knocks down the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba.”

And a recent editorial in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune noted that “Klobuchar, who often pushes relatively noncontroversial legislation, is to be commended for taking on such a divisive issue. Forging the consensus needed for passage will be difficult, but this is a battle worthy of her skills.”

Also last month, Sen. Klobuchar traveled to Cuba with with Senators Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) and Mark Warner (D.,Va.).


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