On Thursday, Mar. 23, former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue testified before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee about his nomination to be agriculture secretary. Secretary-designate Perdue publicly pledged his support for expanded trade with Cuba.
Cuba imports 80% of its food, creating a $2 billion agricultural import market 90 miles off our shores. U.S. agriculture is an economic driver and supports 17.3 million jobs across the country. Removing trade restrictions on exporting food to Cuba could significantly increase U.S. agricultural exports, create jobs across the country and provide the Cuban people with high-quality American food.
"USDA Secretary designate Sonny Perdue is an exceptionally qualified nominee to lead the USDA. Mr. Perdue has long been an advocate of expanding trade with Cuba's $2 billion agricultural import market," said President of Engage Cuba, James Williams. "We're very optimistic that Mr. Perdue will be confirmed by the Senate and will continue to support American agribusiness by advancing efforts to lift the U.S. embargo on Cuba."
In an exchange with committee member Senator John Boozman from Arkansas, Mr. Perdue said, "with respect to Cuba, for those of you on the Gulf Coast and those along the East Coast as well as those who have been mentioned by your colleagues in the upper midwest, I think we would love have Cuba as a customer in many things. I led an ag delegation from Georgia to Cuba as Governor in 2010 and I found then as much of the problem there regarding the demand was the ability to pay and the ability to finance there as much anything."
American producers are able to sell their products to Cuba. However, they are unable to offer private financing for the sale of agricultural commodities to Cuba. While this is codified in law and would require an act of Congress, Mr. Perdue went on to announce his support for efforts to remove these financing restrictions.
"So I think we have the product they need and they would like the product. The real issue I heard regarding Cuba was the financing part and certainly that would come probably under another area, not the USDA, but I would support their efforts if we could get private financing," he added.
Mr. Perdue is referring to the bipartisan Cuba Agricultural Exports Act which would remove restrictions on offering credit for the export of agricultural commodities to Cuba. That bill has been introduced by Congressman Rick Crawford from Arkansas in the House and Senators Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota and John Boozman from Arkansas.
We're very optimistic Mr. Perdue will be confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and will continue to fight for American farmers by supporting expanded trade with Cuba.