Baton Rouge Business Report: Louisiana rice producers pledge support to farm bill’s Cuba provision

Louisiana rice producers joined a bipartisan group of over 60 agriculture associations, businesses and elected officials in support of a farm bill provision that would expand trade with Cuba, according to the Engage Cuba Coalition.

The Louisiana Rice Promotion Council and Mer Rouge-based Kennedy Rice are pushing the U.S. House and Senate Agriculture Committees to include a provision in the 2018 farm bill that the Congressional Budget Office determined would save $690 million over 10 years.

The suggested amendment, adapted from the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, would expand agricultural trade with Cuba by removing restrictions on private financing for U.S. food exports.  

Many of Louisiana’s top agricultural products, such as rice, soybeans, and poultry, are staple imports for Cuba. Cuba has the highest per capita rice consumption in the Western Hemisphere, and Louisiana is the nation’s third-largest rice producer. The island also imports $141 million annually in soybeans, the coalition reports.

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. Cuba imports roughly 80% of its food and has a population of 11 million.

The Senate’s version of the farm bill already includes an amendment by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, that would allow U.S. agricultural producers to spend U.S. Department of Agriculture market promotion funds on marketing to Cuba.

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