Cuba Policy Changes Would Benefit AR Rice Farmers

Arkansas Matters

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Rice farmers in Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana want to sell more of their crops to Cuba.

That island nation is the largest per capita rice consumer in the Western Hemisphere.

Right now, federal law requires Cube to use cash only, no credit, to buy rice and other products from U.S. farmers but some lawmakers want to change that.

A group of lawmakers in Washington is working on a change to Cuba policy that could open up a new market for farmers in several states, including Arkansas.

Supporters say such a change could open up a billion dollar market for American agriculture.

"Cuba is the number one consumer of rice in the western hemisphere and we sell currently sell zero rice to Cuba," says James Williams with Engage Cuba.

In 1962, the U.S. placed a trade embargo on Cuba in response to Fidel Castro's Communist takeover of the island.

"Our goal was to overthrow the Castro regime, introduce democracy, and bring capitalism to Cuba. Those things have not happened," Williams continues.

In 2001, Congress loosened restrictions on trade with Cuba but on a cash only basis.

Williams is working to change that.

"Were basically asking farmers to trade with one hand behind their back," he says.

Arkansas Republican Congressman Rick Crawford agrees.

"What we're trying to do is to allow for us entities to extend credit terms in the sale of those agricultural goods," he says.

Rep. Crawford says rice producing states like Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, have the most to gain.

A small but influential group of lawmakers in Congress oppose easing sanctions on Cuba because of the government's human rights abuses. But a bipartisan coalition believes it now has the votes for change.

Rep. Crawford believes increasing trade could help put Cuba on a path to democratic reforms, and help U.S. farmers at the same time.

"It tees us up the opportunity for the United States to play a larger role," he continues.

Crawford and other Washington lawmakers are working on tweaks aimed at preventing Cuban military leaders from benefiting from the flow of new business. They hope to have that legislation ready in the next few weeks.