Cuba could be buying a lot more poultry, corn, dairy and other ag commodities produced in the U.S., but first the U.S. needs to reverse course and begin strengthening ties with the island nation. That is the message from some of the largest American farm groups to the incoming Biden administration.

“A turn to policies of engagement will serve our national interest and benefit U.S. agriculture, which has long practiced many forms of engagement on a global scale,” U.S. ag groups and members of the United States Agriculture Coalition for Cuba said in a letter sent to President-elect Joe Biden Friday. “Freed of restrictions, we expect that ties between our agricultural sectors will produce important economic and humanitarian benefits and contribute to better relations between our peoples and governments.”

Twenty-three farm groups, state ag departments and companies, including the USA Rice Federation, National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association, US Grains Council, U.S. Wheat Associates, National Potato Council and the National Association of Wheat Growers signed on to the letter.

“It has been USA Rice’s long-standing policy that we support restoration of normal commercial trade and travel between the United States and Cuba, and we look forward to working with the Biden Administration and the 117th Congress to restore this once thriving market for U.S. grown rice,” USA Rice Federation President Betsy Ward told Agri-Pulse in a recent interview.

Cuba imports about $2 billion worth of ag commodities per year, but the U.S. gets only about 10% of that business despite the fact that the two countries are so close. The U.S. lies only about 100 miles to the north of communist country, but financing, shipping and other restrictions reduce trade opportunities.

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“We hope you make clear that neither our principles nor our interests are served by harming the Cuban economy and increasing hardship for the 11 million neighbors who live in it,” the USACC said in the letter. “We urge you to inform Congress that your Administration would welcome legislation to end the embargo entirely, should Congress choose to act.”

But there are many other actions the incoming Biden administration could take, outside of a complete lifting of the embargo. An important one would be to suspend the U.S. policy — Title III of the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 — that allows U.S. nationals to sue Cuba for reclaiming property confiscated by the Cuban government 60 years ago. The provision, widely seen as discouraging international investment in Cuba, was never allowed to go into effect until the Trump administration.

“American agriculture supports a Cuba policy based on our broad national interests, enabling citizens and business across our country to engage freely,” the U.S. farm groups told Biden. “We are confident that such a course will have strong bipartisan support, and we urge you to take it.”

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