WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2016 – The Obama administration has invested nearly two years into forging new ties with Cuba, and a White House official made the case to reporters Tuesday why the Trump administration should not try to roll back changes.
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, spoke at length about the new regulations and initiatives, including a “foundation” for improving agricultural ties, that he stressed were popular both in Cuba and the U.S. Undoing them, Rhodes said, would be possible for the Trump administration, but he stressed it would not be easy.
“What we believe would be very damaging is any effort to turn off the opening that’s been made,” Rhodes said in an hour-long call. “What we’re trying to do is to create as much momentum for the policy so as to make it irreversible – to enlist as many stakeholders as we could in the policy so as to make it irreversible.”
All of that may not be enough to sway Trump, who has disparaged Obama’s efforts to improve U.S.-Cuba relations. Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told Fox News recently that Trump was very willing to undo the efforts to normalize relations with Cuba unless the U.S. “got a better deal” for opening up to the communist country.
Rhodes said he hoped that the opportunities for increased commerce and trade with Cuba would play a factor in convincing Trump not to void the new policy.
“We would welcome greater U.S. business involvement in Cuba, and the new administration has a number of appointees who have significant business experience,” the White House official said. “Frankly, the U.S. business community has supported our approach. The Chamber of Commerce has supported our approach.”
The agricultural sector also supports improving ties to Cuba. U.S. farmers are selling soybeans, poultry, corn and other commodities to Cuba now, but farm groups believe they couls sell much more if the credit restrictions are removed and the U.S. embargo is fully lifted.
As it is now, Cuba can only buy U.S. agricultural commodities if it pays cash up front and that has restricted trade. U.S. rice exports to Cuba – once a major importer – have fallen to zero.
The U.S. International Trade Commission said in a report earlier this year that Cuba bought an average of $313 million worth of U.S. farm commodities from 2010 to 2103, but also predicted that removing the credit restriction could more than double those sales. The Senate and the House are both considering legislation to remove the credit restrictions.
“I think when you look at it from a business sense, particularly within agriculture, it’s a no-brainer because we have so many goods and services to sell to Cuba and we know we can get 80 to 90 percent of the market share,” Doug Keesling, state support committee chairman of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, told Agri-Pulse in an interview.
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