The Des Moines Register
By: James Williams and Bob Hemesath
Ending the travel and trade restrictions with Cuba would provide tremendous opportunities for Iowa businesses and enable economic mobility for the Cuban people. While the Obama administration has eased some restrictions on travel to and trade with Cuba, it’s time for Congress to lift the embargo, which harms Iowa business and hinders economic opportunities for the Cuban people.
Engage Cuba, the leading coalition of businesses, trade organizations and civil society groups advocating for an end to the travel ban and trade embargo, co-published a “Heartland Survey” of voters’ opinions on U.S. policy toward Cuba. The poll, conducted by the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, revealed that the majority of Iowans from both the Republican and Democratic parties support free trade and travel to Cuba, including 64 percent who support lifting the travel ban.
Cuba is the only country in the world to which the U.S. government prohibits tourist travel. Until Congress lifts the travel ban, Iowans will continue to be prohibited from enjoying what is quickly becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Congress should not be in the business of telling Iowans where they can or cannot vacation.
As Cuba’s tourism industry continues to grow, Iowans aren’t only missing out on travel. Cuba depends heavily on agricultural imports, which average $2 billion annually, representing a market where the U.S. used to be the No. 1 supplier, but has now dropped to No. 5.
There also is an immediate need for infrastructure improvements to meet the rising demand of foreign travelers. Agriculture and manufacturing make up the No. 1 and 2 sectors, respectively, of the state’s economy, thus Iowa is strongly positioned to address insufficiencies in Cuba and create jobs throughout the state.
Agriculture is a major economic driver in Iowa and supports 1 in 5 jobs. Expanding trade with Cuba would provide Iowa agribusiness with significant opportunities that are being lost to foreign competitors. Iowa is well-positioned to be a driver in biotech, which is another potential growth sector for Iowa’s exports.
Iowa also is a national leader in clean energy production, including natural gas, wind power and biodiesel. Cuba has publicly declared its commitment to shift to renewable energy and is poised to reap the benefits of Iowa’s energy exports. The Cuban government has expressed interest in building its renewable energy sector and set a goal of generating 24 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, including building 13 new wind facilities. As the Cuban energy sector begins to look outward toward international trade, there are ample opportunities for Iowa energy companies to export the infrastructure, technology and expertise that are much needed in Cuba.
In prolonging the embargo, the U.S. not only prevents renewable energy powerhouses like Iowa from capitalizing on this opportunity, but it also ironically benefits foreign competitors, which have expressed interest in supplying wind turbines to the island. Expanding trade with Cuba would increase the volume of farm and energy exports from Iowa, which would directly impact Iowa workers and our state’s economy.
It is clear that the embargo continues to suppress economic growth in Cuba and infringe on the freedom of Iowans to travel wherever they choose and conduct business in a promising new market 90 miles off our shores. For this reason, we’re urging Congress to pass the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act and the Agricultural Export Expansion Act.
BOB HEMESATH is president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association. He has also served as president of both the Winneshiek County Corn Growers and the Winneshiek Pork Producers.
JAMES WILLIAMS is president of Engage Cuba, the leading coalition of private companies and organizations working to lift the travel and trade embargo on Cuba. Contact: engagecuba.org