Easing Ag Exports to Cuba: A Sure Thing or a Pipe Dream?

POLITICO Morning Trade

By: Adam Behsudi

The lawmaker who withdrew his own measure to ease agricultural exports to Cuba is framing his decision as a step forward for proponents of trade with the island nation - but not everyone is buying it. Rep. Rick Crawford and his supporters, including the "cautiously optimistic" U.S. rice industry and other pro-Cuba trade advocates, say withdrawing the amendment in exchange for a commitment from leadership to find a long-term solution means swapping a one-year fix for something broader and more permanent.

"The vote was going to be close and the congressman made the decision to pull back his amendment in return for commitments from opposition and House leadership that leave us optimistic that the barriers will be addressed this year," USA Rice Vice President of Government Affairs Ben Mosely said in a statement. Engage Cuba, a nonprofit focused on U.S.-Cuba relations, also called the move a "major step forward."

But a separate camp of Cuba advocates say the amendment had actually garnered bipartisan support and would have been attached to must-pass legislation, while a separate bill could be more difficult to push through Congress. Rep. Mike Conaway, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee who supports expanded trade with Cuba, told POLITICO on Thursday that he didn't see any way a bill could come up this year.

Devry Boughner Vorwerk, chairwoman of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, which had advocated strongly for the amendment, declined to comment directly on whether the development was a good one. "What's positive," she said, "is that we were able to raise awareness." She added the group will redouble its efforts with this Congress. "We're going to let the dust settle today, and then were gonna reassess our strategy," she said.