Arkansas Business Publishing Group
By: Aleix Hosticka
Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward will speak at the Third Annual Mid-South Agricultural & Environmental Law Conference in Memphis, which takes place Thursday and Friday.
The conference, which will take place at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, is led by the National Agricultural Law Center and designed to provide agricultural and environmental legal research and information to attorneys, lenders, accountants, tax consultants, students and other agricultural professionals.
Ward will give the keynote address, a look at agricultural trade with Cuba, at the event lunch on Friday. Ward accompanied Gov. Asa Hutchinson on his trip to Cuba last year.
Arkansas Business talked with Ward this week for a preview of his remarks and his insight into the hot topic of trade with Cuba. His responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Arkansas Business: How will you approach the topic of Cuba in your Friday address?
Wes Ward: We’re going to be talking about Cuba, so my approach is going to be talking a little bit about the history and how agricultural exports have changed over the history of our relationship with Cuba. Starting with 1959 — when the revolution started — and kind of looking at what U.S. and Arkansas exports were to Cuba prior to the Cuban revolution. Then, how that changed with the embargo and the different legal aspects of the embargo. Moving forward from there, in October 2000, when the trade sanctions were formed, and how that started to shift things and the history with that.
Some of [the speech] may be a legal-nuanced and sort of a legal background of some of the issues with Cuba to a degree. We’ll also talk about Cuba in general – an overview of some of the most recent efforts. I’ll talk about the governor’s trip to Cuba last year that I got to participate in with the World Trade Center of Arkansas, the work that Sen. [John] Boozman has done, and a couple of different groups: the Cuba Consortium, Engage Cuba Coalition.
I’m going to kind of give a history of our relationship with Cuba and what’s changed and some of the recent efforts.
AB: What opportunities does Arkansas have as the U.S. tries to jump-start trade with Cuba?
WW: Cuba has the highest per capita consumption of rice in the Western Hemisphere. Arkansas produces 50 percent of the nation’s rice, so when you look at the potential relationship between Arkansas and Cuba specifically, rice tends to benefit more than anybody else.
Once some of those restrictions have been lifted, we would see potentially about a $36 million economic impact on the agriculture side in Arkansas, and about $30 million of that would be for the rice industry.
The rice industry in Arkansas would be the greatest benefactor of the restrictions being lifted.