Cuba & Iowa officials meet, talk agribusiness in Central Iowa

ABC - Des Moines, Iowa

By: Claire Powell

Cuban officials are visiting Iowa’s top agricultural officials Friday.

It’s been 55 years since the economic embargo and trade restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba.

Today, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack toured four central Iowa agriculture farms and businesses with the Cuban Minister of Agriculture Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero.

On top of Rollero’s visit, Engage Cuba announced their Iowa State Council at the capitol Friday afternoon.

The group is aiming to “build statewide support for Congressional action to end the travel ban and trade embargo on Cuba.” The council includes people like Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, Farm Bureau President Craig Hill and humanitarian’s like Bishop Richard Pates.

"Cuba pays two billion dollars in food imports per year. The U.S. used to be number one and is now fifth,” said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba.

Williams says as the tourism grows in Cuba, the need for high quality food and more of it will be prevalent.

"Cuba needs to import eighty percent of their food and much of these products can be delivered by Iowa farmers,” said Craig Hill, President of Iowa Farm Bureau.

Bishop Pates recalled past memories when he traveled to Cuba alongside Pope Benedict.  

"The program is there and it’ll help Iowa and farmers. We have the best corn and soybeans in the world. We should share for the benefit of ourselves, but also for helping our neighbors who are 90 miles away. They’ve been our friends for almost forever, so we should move in the direction that seems common sense, I think,” said Pates.

Iowa’s top exports as of 2014 were soybeans, pork and corn. Cuba’s top imports are grains, poultry and dairy.

In a place where humanitarian issues are of concern, officials say they believe easing commodities may ease tensions among the countries people.

"The relationship between the two counties seems natural. The embargo has been in place for almost 55 years and people’s minds are changing about our relationship with Cuba. We need to acknowledge that and have a dialogue and see how we can progress together.”

Engage Cuba is holding a reception with more than sixty top officials Friday evening. To learn more about Engage Cuba, visit http://www.engagecuba.org/