House Ag Committee votes to re-open Cuba to U.S. ag exports

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, June 30 – Hoping to quickly add $1 billion a year to U.S. agricultural exports, the House Agriculture Committee voted 25-20 Wednesday to reverse U.S. policies blocking both exports and travel to Cuba. Lifting export restrictions would get products flowing – and Americans traveling to Cuba would pump in the cash needed to buy U.S. products.

Following the committee vote for H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, a bipartisan bill with 62 co-sponsors, the bill's author, House Ag Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN) said that “I am proud to say that today, the House Agriculture Committee took a courageous vote to end the short-sighted and failed policy that limits American agriculture's access to the Cuban market. An unprecedented coalition of agriculture, business, religious and social organizations have endorsed H.R. 4645, and today's vote demonstrates that Congress is ready to change our nation's approach on this issue.”

Peterson noted that some 140 groups have expressed strong support for the legislation, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Farmers Union, American Farm Bureau Federation, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Cato Institute, the Brookings Institution, and Human Rights Watch. As well, more than 70 pro-democracy Cuban leaders sent a letter strongly encouraging passage of H.R. 4645.

This legislation is the right policy at the right time,” Peterson said. “We have tried to isolate Cuba for more than fifty years, and it has not worked. As it has in other countries, perhaps increasing trade with Cuba will encourage democratic progress.”

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman welcomed the vote, commenting that “This vote today takes us one step closer to placing American-grown food on the tables of the Cuban people. We are hopeful the House will expedite consideration of this bill so we can take advantage of our competitive position in the Cuban market.”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson commented that “NFU joined 138 other organizations in support of this bill without amendments. We are pleased progress is being made toward passage. We commend Committee Chairman Peterson for his leadership and hope the momentum will carry forward as the bill goes to the House floor.” Johnson added that “In the current economic environment, it is vital to take advantage of all opportunities that will open markets for producers to sell their products, and this legislation does just that. . . By allowing U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, U.S. dollars will be put into the hands of Cuban citizens. The extra money will allow for the purchase of U.S. goods, improving the economy in both Cuba and the United States in the long term. This is a win-win for everyone involved.”

Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS) who co-sponsored Peterson's Cuba bill commented that “Today’s vote is a step in the right direction and a victory for America’s farmers and ranchers. Cuba must import nearly eighty-five percent of its food and current U.S. trade policies hurt American farmers and ranchers by making it more expensive for Cuba to purchase U.S. agriculture products. Instead of buying U.S. commodities, current policy encourages Cuba to buy its food from countries such as Vietnam and China. I have long fought for common sense changes to our trade policy with Cuba in order to open up markets only 90 miles away. This legislation will standardize our trade policies, increase export sales and create thousands of American jobs without increasing the deficit.”

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President, Bruce Josten said “The Chamber supports efforts to broaden economic engagement with Cuba in the belief that additional commercial and people-to-people contacts will help advance democracy and the rule of law. . . Facilitating agricultural exports to Cuba would restore the natural competitive advantage of U.S. agricultural products in Cuba.”

According to National Association of Wheat Growers President and Jerry McReynolds, “We are long overdue to make common-sense changes to our policy concerning Cuba, which has done nothing but hamstring agriculture’s competitiveness in this neighboring market and hurt our agricultural economy. Especially at this time of high wheat stocks and low harvest prices in states like mine [Kansas], this is a major competitiveness issue that deserves a solution.”

Representing Republican dissent likely to be voiced again whenever the bill reaches the House floor, Committee member Tom Rooney (R-FL) opposed the bill and warned that “Lifting the travel ban would inject millions of dollars into the Cuban government at a time when the Castro regime is on the ropes.”

To hear Stewart Doan's audo report on the Cuba vote, click on the following link:.

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