Minnesota Businesses Looking to Increase Opportunities in Cuba

KTSP

Minnesota is trying to take the lead when it comes to relations with Cuba.

Our business community is starting what they call an "Engage Cuba Coalition." The organization is a way to strengthen ties to the country even though the travel and trade embargo remains in place.

There are 11 million people in Cuba just 90 miles off our shores. According to U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, 80 percent of their food is imported including some from Minnesota.

"As we look at things they cannot grow there certainly from a Midwest perspective corn and soybeans or value added. Instead of that raw commodity let’s export the meats," Kevin Paap of the Minnesota Farm Bureau said.

Paap says Minnesota ranks second in pork production should benefit from exporting more of that meat too. The state also ranks fourth in the U.S. in terms of agricultural exports.

Minnesota also hopes to benefit from tourism in Cuba which is expected to surge if the embargo is lifted.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar was in Cuba last week with President Obama and at Monday's meeting. She says, as restrictions are loosened the country can expect 5 million Americans visiting every year. So, she asks, why shouldn't Minnesota farmers help feed them?

"They need agriculture, they need food and that's good for Minnesota," she said.

Klobuchar says, because of American policies our agribusiness is losing ground. The U.S. is now Cuba's No. 4 supplier after the EU, Brazil and Argentina.

Another advantage for Minnesotans is cultural exchanges. We were the first state to send our orchestra to Cuba and 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS was there cover it all. Cuban born musician Nachito Herrera says, cultural exchanges will greatly influence students.

"I think students from here are going to learn a lot and at the same time we will be able to bring a group of students from Cuba to Minnesota to learn more about our culture," he said.

Klobuchar expects a reversal in policy after the November election.