WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, the Senate passed its version of the farm bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, with a provision to allow federal market promotion dollars to be used for agricultural exports to Cuba. The provision, introduced by Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), was adopted by voice vote in the Senate Agriculture Committee. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) attempted to strip out the amendment but were ultimately unsuccessful.
"This is an enormously positive step toward expanding our trade relationship with the Cuban people. The fact that this provision had such bipartisan support represents a huge win for U.S. farmers and for the Cuban people," said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba. "Unfortunately, 3 out of 100 Senators extended their crusade against the Cuban people to include punishing American farmers, who have been struggling with the worst farm economy in decades. But they were largely unsuccessful, and we are encouraged by the overwhelming majority in the Senate who ensured that this amendment survived. Thank you to Senator Heitkamp for her steadfast leadership on behalf of American farmers and the Cuban people."
The provision codifies the ability of U.S. farmers receiving U.S. Department of Agriculture market promotion grants to direct those funds toward selling 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. The use of MAP/FMD grants in Cuba, however, will likely need to comply with the Trump Administration's prohibition on transactions with certain restricted entities in Cuba.
The MAP/FMD amendment is part Senator Heitkamp's broader Cuba agriculture bill, the Agricultural Export Expansion Act (S.275). That bill would repeal a section of the 2000 law prohibiting U.S. sellers from offering financing or credit terms to Cuban purchasers of U.S. food products. Cuba imports $1.8 billion in agricultural products annually, but only a fraction comes from the U.S. due to the cash-only requirement. Opening Cuban markets to producers of commodities like poultry, soy, wheat, and dairy could deliver a much-needed boost to U.S. agribusiness. The bill has drawn support from both sides of the aisle and from an array of commodity groups and trade associations.