New Study See Opportunities For MS Farmers in Cuba

Mississippi Public Broadcasting

By: Evelina Burnett

A new report by a group that advocates lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba says Mississippi would see significant economic benefits from increased trade with its island neighbor.

The Engage Cuba Coalition says Cuba imports as much as 80 percent of its food. And senior policy advisor Lee Ann Evans says the U.S. is being shut out as a major supplier.

"The EU, Argentina, Brazil and now Vietnam are beating us out in terms of exports," she says. "And if you look at what Cuba is importing, it's products like poultry, dairy, corn, rice, wheat, soybeans -- so a lot of things that we do really well in the United States.

"And for Mississippi specifically," she adds,"when you look at Mississippi's major exports, which are soybeans, poultry, soybean meal and corn -- those are all products that Cuba is importing."

Importing to the tune of nearly $2 billion a year.  Brian Williams is an agricultural economist at Mississippi State University. He says, the high quality of U.S. products is likely to help Mississippi suppliers get into the Cuban market quickly if trade barriers are lifted. 

"If we could get trade opened up with Cuba, it could definitely stand to benefit Mississippi," he says. "The commodities that I see benefiting most are poultry and what I would consider more of the Southern commodities, particularly cotton and rice, and probably even soybeans for that matter." 

Evans of Engage Cuba says the key barrier for U.S. suppliers is a law that prevents them from extending credit to Cuban importers. 

"Agriculture is actually in a very unique position when you look at the sanctions regime, because back in 2000, there was a law passed called the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, which allowed for the export of agricultural goods, however you were not allowed to offer financing. So it required cash in advance, and this is not competitive for U.S. agriculture."

Evans says there are bills proposed in both the House and Senate to change this rule.