Texas will benefit from better US-Cuba relations

Houston Chronicle

By: James Williams

It's time for Congress to end fifty years of failed policy - policy that has failed Texas and failed Cuba. The U.S. travel and trade embargo on Cuba infringes on the rights of Texans and continues to stifle economic mobility for Cubans. But Congress can and must act to change that.

With world-class ports and proximity to Cuba, Texas is uniquely positioned to be an international leader in exports to our island neighbor. Despite the fact that Cuba is located just across the Gulf, Texas farmers are losing out on Cuba's growing markets. Every year the embargo is in place, foreign competitors will continue to gain market share in Cuba as Texans are stuck on the sidelines. The U.S. used to be the top supplier of agricultural goods to Cuba, but we have fallen to fifth behind the EU, Brazil, Argentina, and Vietnam.

Lifting the embargo would provide Texas farmers efficient and economical opportunities to export goods that would help support Cuba's private entrepreneurs.

Tourism is driving private sector growth and economic development in Cuba. Eliminating the travel and trade ban would be a boon for Cuban entrepreneurs, or cuentapropistas, who depend on tourism to expand and grow.

Cuba is the only country in the world to which the U.S. government prohibits tourist travel. Texans are prohibited from enjoying what is quickly becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world due to our archaic policies. Congress should not be in the business of telling Texans where they can or cannot visit.

Vacation isn't the only thing Texans are missing out on as a result of the travel ban. As millions of Americans have expressed interest in traveling to Cuba, lifting the ban would cause Cuba to increase agriculture imports to feed the millions of new visitors, providing tremendous opportunities for Texas farmers to fill that gap.

The Lone Star State leads the nation in the number of farms and ranches. Texas' nearly 250,000 farms, the majority of which are family farms, stand to benefit from increased trade with Cuba.

Cuba imports up to 80 percent of its food. According to Texas A&M University's Center for North American Studies, Texas could export more than $18 million a year to Cuba in products such as beef, wheat, and rice. The implications of this would be great for farmers and small businesses.

Seven of the ports in Texas rank in the top 50 of all U.S. ports. Increasing exports to Cuba would support Texas ports, which have a significant economic impact on the entire state. The Port of Houston alone, one of the busiest ports in the world, generated more than $264 billion in statewide economic impact.

In prolonging the embargo, the U.S. prevents Texans from capitalizing on Cuba's growing markets, to the benefit of foreign competitors who can trade more freely with Cuba. Congress should pass the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act and the Agricultural Export Expansion Act. Doing so is good for Texas, and for the United States.