U.S. Sens Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Help Farmers Export to Cuba

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and John Boozman (R-AR), and a group of bipartisan Senators, introduced the Agricultural Export Expansion Act, legislation that would make it easier for American farmers to sell to our island neighbor by removing arbitrary restrictions on offering private financing for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba. 

Cuba imports nearly 80% of its food, which amounts to about $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. 

"American farmers can sell to Cuba, but with one hand tied behind their backs. This commonsense legislation simply lets them compete. Removing arbitrary financing restrictions on selling to Cuba could significantly increase U.S. agricultural exports, create jobs across the country and provide the Cuban people with high-quality American food," said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba, a national coalition of private companies, organizations and local leaders dedicated to lifting the Cuban embargo. "We applaud Senators Heitkamp and Boozman for their leadership in supporting U.S. agribusiness by making it easier for American farmers to sell to our island neighbor."

U.S. producers have been allowed to export agricultural commodities to Cuba since Congress passed the Trade Sanctions Reform Act (TSRA) in 2000, but with restrictions on financing. 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 dropped to fifth behind Brazil, China, Argentina, and Vietnam.

“Our farmers rely on exports, and exports help create more American jobs. Any North Dakota farmer or rancher could tell you that,” said U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp. “Financing restrictions are the number one barrier facing North Dakota farmers who want to sell their crops to Cuba, and this bill would do away with that obstacle. Cuba is a natural market for North Dakota crops like dry beans, peas, and lentils, and there’s no good reason for us to restrict farmers’ export opportunities—which support good-paying American jobs—by continuing this outdated policy.”

“It’s time for Washington to enact commonsense reforms so Arkansas farmers and agriculture producers across the country can compete fairly for the Cuban marketplace,” U.S. Sen. Boozman said. “Current law prohibits the financing of agricultural exports to Cuba and requires cash payment up front, essentially preventing U.S. farmers from being able to export their products to Cuba. Lifting the ban would allow private banks and companies to offer credit for the sale of U.S. agricultural commodities to Cuba. This small step would help level the playing field for American farmers and exporters while simultaneously exposing Cubans to American ideals, values and products. This bill is a win-win for American farmers and the Cuban people.”

More information on Cuba's agricultural market is available here

On, Jan. 12, a national coalition of over 100 U.S. agriculture, trade, commerce-related businesses and associations, urged then President-elect Trump to support American agriculture by strengthening the bilateral trade relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. The letter, organized by the Engage Cuba and USA Rice, also encourages the president to support the Agricultural Exports Expansion Act. 

U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) joined in cosponsoring the Senate bill. 

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

The House companion version, the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act was introduced by U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford (R-AR), Ted Poe (R-TX), and Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, Mike Conaway (R-TX), on Friday, January 13.