A bipartisan group of more than 60 agriculture associations, businesses and elected officials across 17 states urged the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate agriculture committees to keep in the farm bill conference report an amendment sponsored by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., that would remove restrictions on private financing for U.S. food exports and allow farm groups to use federal market promotion funds in Cuba.
U.S. sales of agricultural products to Cuba are limited to cash transactions, causing Cuba to primarily turn to Europe, Latin America and Asia for nearly $2 billion per year in agricultural imports, the agriculture leaders said. They noted that Cuba imports roughly 80 percent of its food and has a population of 11 million, plus an influx of 3 to 5 million tourists annually.
"Your support in removing outdated financing barriers on agricultural sales to our island neighbor could significantly strengthen an industry that supports 17 million jobs across the United States, while providing the Cuban people with high-quality, American-grown food," the letter said. "Hardworking U.S. farmers can and should be Cuba's No. 1 supplier of commodities like rice, poultry, dairy, soy, wheat and corn."
A news release from Engage Cuba also included statements from Heitkamp and Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., and Roger Marshall, R-Kan., in support of the Heitkamp-Boozman amendment.
"The United States has just 5 percent of the world's population, which means 95 percent of consumers live outside our borders. If we aren't constantly working to open markets and reach new customers, American farmers and workers won't be competitive on the global stage. That's why it's so important for U.S. farmers and ranchers to gain access to markets like Cuba, where there is demand for American agricultural products," Heitkamp said.
"My bipartisan amendment would give USDA the ability to build reliable trade partnerships between U.S. producers and Cuban buyers, strengthening our ag economy and finally removing outdated barriers to selling our products to consumers in a nation that sits just off our coastline. It would also help boost North Dakota's farmers during a time of serious uncertainty from the administration's trade policies," she said.
"Our current Cuba trade financing laws deny our farmers access to a market valued at over $1 billion per year. I appreciate Sen. Boozman and Sen. Heitkamp's work to include Cuba agricultural trade language in the Senate version of the farm bill, and I look forward to working to replace the current cash-for-crop requirements," said Crawford, lead sponsor of the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act in the House and a participant in the farm bill conference committee.
"Today, farm country is filled with uncertainty. Passing a farm bill is paramount, but in doing so we must look ahead and support mutually beneficial economic opportunities, like those in Cuba," Marshall said. "While we are renegotiating our trade deals, we have a $2 billion market untouched right under our nose."
"Our farmers don't want handouts. They know if they can compete with the rest of the world, they can win," said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba. "There is no reason why the Cuban people shouldn't be eating American rice and dairy instead of importing it from Vietnam and New Zealand."
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