State Leaders: Trade Between U.S., Cuba Would Boost Minnesota

CBS Minnesota

By: Rachel Slavik

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The improving diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Cuba could have a big impact on Minnesota.

There’s the potential for job growth and billions of dollars, but business can’t happen until the U.S. lifts its trade embargo. Two members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation are working on legislation to change that.

“Lifting the embargo is opportunity for our state,” Congressman Tom Emmer of Minnesota said.

Senator Amy Klobuchar and Congressman Emmer have introduced bills in Congress to end the trade embargo.

Last week, the two joined President Barack Obama on his historic visit to Cuba.

Monday morning, both Senator Klobuchar and Congressman Emmer spoke to a newly formed coalition in Minneapolis called the Engage Cuba State Council.  The group is made of business, academic and community leaders who want to establish a business relationship with Cuba.

“We’re on the precipice of change.  I’m glad for where we are and hopeful of where we’ll go,” Mike Fernandez, corporate vice president of Cargill, said.

“I think the opportunity for two-way trade is important at this point in time,” Dave Frederickson, Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture, said.

The group discussed the impact of the embargo and the possibility of new policy.  Klobuchar and Emmer also discussed the current limitations and the potential for missed opportunity.

Right now, Minnesota exports about 20 million to Cuba in a humanitarian exemption to the embargo.  It’s estimated that figure could triple in the first year of a trade agreement.

“Pretty soon, you’re going to have five million Americans visiting every year and if we don’t get our act together, they’ll be sleeping in Spanish hotels and eating Chinese food,” Sen. Klobuchar said.  “As that market becomes clearer for Europeans and other countries in Asia and South America, they’ll do more trade with Cuba and we’ll be banned from doing significant trade with Cuba unless we lift the embargo.”

Some of Cuba’s biggest growth potential is in agriculture and health care, which are industries where Minnesota is among the top the nation. Those pushing for change believe the benefits of new business 1,800 miles away would also be felt here at home.

“It’s going to create jobs in our state. They need agriculture, they need food and that’s good for Minnesota,” Sen. Klobuchar said.

Both Sen. Klobuchar and Congressman Emmer said it’s unlikely Congress would vote on either bill before the November election.