U.S. Members of Congress Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Help Farmers Export to Cuba

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Representatives Rick Crawford (R-AR-1) and Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17) introduced the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (H.R. 1898), legislation that would make it easier for American farmers to sell to our island neighbor by removing arbitrary restrictions on private financing for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba. 

Cuba imports nearly 80% of its food, which amounts to almost $2 billion annually, creating a huge potential export market for American farmers only 90 miles off our shores. However, U.S. financing restrictions limit the ability of U.S. producers to compete for market share. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the proposed legislation would save U.S. taxpayers $690 million over 10 years.

“Eliminating these onerous, outdated restrictions will finally allow our farmers to claim their fair market share in Cuba, while at the same time, giving the Cuban people the quality U.S. food they desire,” said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba. “Why should Cuba turn to Vietnam and Brazil for rice and soy when Arkansas and Illinois are right next door? We need to update our policies to reflect the realities of today and allow our farmers to compete in a market 90 miles off our shores." 

“The Cuba embargo has been in place for several decades, yet it has done little to weaken the oppressive socialist government of Cuba and has instead stifled American business opportunities that are within a short reach. Eliminating the cash-for-crop requirement would open up a substantial market for Arkansas farmers and open the door to future trade partnerships among our nations," said Congressman Rick Crawford (R-AR-1). 

“On top of a struggling farm economy, the President’s trade war has been devastating for producers in our region,” Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17) said. “That’s why I’m working across the aisle on this legislation that would expand agricultural trade with Cuba – because we need to protect and open new markets for farmers and manufacturers. By providing Cubans with access to the standard credit terms offered by virtually every other nation in the world, we’ll take meaningful steps toward increasing our agricultural exports and strengthening our local economy. That’s a goal we should all be able to get behind."

U.S. producers have been allowed to export agricultural commodities to Cuba since Congress passed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSRA) in 2000, but a cash-in-advance requirement prevents Cuba from purchasing U.S. food on credit. As a cash poor country, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba have declined every year since 2009 in terms of dollar amount, market share, and in the variety of products shipped. The U.S. used to be the number one supplier of agricultural commodities to Cuba, but has since fallen behind international competitors like the European Union, Brazil, and Vietnam. 

Farmers seeking to export to Cuba won some success in the 2018 farm bill. Last year, the farm bill passed with a provision that allows U.S. agricultural producers to use federal market promotion dollars for agricultural exports to Cuba. A cornerstone of Engage Cuba's legislative advocacy efforts in the last Congress, this was the first law to repeal part of the U.S. embargo on Cuba in nearly 20 years and laid the groundwork for comprehensive trade between the United States and Cuba. 

The provision codifies the ability of U.S. farmers receiving U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) market promotion grants to direct those funds toward marketing their products in Cuba. These grants, under the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, help U.S. farmers offset the costs of overseas marketing. An amendment to the farm bill, the provision was part of the Senate companion to the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, introduced by Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and John Boozman (R-AR).

In September of 2017, a bipartisan group of over 60 agriculture associations, businesses, and elected officials across 17 states sent a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate Committees on Agriculture to urge the inclusion of both Cuba trade provisions in the final farm bill. 

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved the bill as an amendment to a financial services spending bill in 2016, as well as in July 2015.

More information on Cuba's agricultural market is available here