WASHINGTON, June 16, 2017 – New measures unveiled today by the Trump administration to restrict U.S. travel and trade with Cuba met with strong opposition from U.S. farm groups hoping to increase agricultural exports to the island nation.
President Donald Trump said the policy directive he signed in Miami is necessary to confront the “brutal nature of the Castro regime” and strengthen the U.S. embargo, but farm groups said it sets back their efforts to help feed the communist country.
Former President Barack Obama spent the final two years of his administration working to bring the two countries closer together, giving groups like the USA Rice Federation hope that its farmers could eventually begin selling rice to Cuba again.
"We continue to advocate for the normalization of commercial trade and business relationships with the people of Cuba," said Betsy Ward, president & CEO of USA Rice. "Returning to policies that have not only not worked for half a century, but also harmed American farmers, is not in the interests of the rural citizens who helped elect President Trump and who he said he was going to put first."
The Obama executive actions on Cuba did not have much of a direct impact on U.S. agricultural exports, but the U.S. farm sector hailed them as a move in the right direction that helped spur congressional interest in expanding trade.
“At a time when family farmers and ranchers are enduring a steep decline in net farm income, it is disheartening to see President Trump complicate an opportunity to expand U.S. agricultural markets,” said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson. “Today’s decision unfortunately sets us in a backwards trajectory, moving away from increasing market share in a country of 11 million people just 90 miles away from U.S. shores.”
Trump’s new directives ban doing business with Cuban companies that are controlled by Cuba's military or intelligence agencies as well as clamp down on some tourism.
“We do not want U.S. dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits the citizens of Cuba,” Trump said.
It’s unclear what, if any, effect the new policies will have directly on agricultural trade. The military does not buy the corn, soybeans, dairy and other commodities that Cuba imports from the U.S., but a government purchasing agency, ALIMPORT, does.
Congress passed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act in 2000, allowing the U.S. to export agricultural commodities and medical supplies to Cuba, but in 2005 the U.S. Treasury Department ruled that U.S. banks could not finance those sales. That restriction continues to limit U.S. farm exports.
The U.S. Grains Council said today it expects Trumps actions will hurt U.S. agricultural exporters.
“The U.S. Grains Council (USGC) has worked in Cuba for nearly two decades to help capture grain demand and develop its livestock industry within the confines of U.S. policy,” said Tom Sleight, the group’s president and CEO. “While the announcement today will make our efforts in Cuba more difficult – and almost certainly cost U.S. corn farmers sales in the short term – we have every intention of continuing our work there to build long-term, mutually-beneficial trade.”
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said Trump’s move was not in the interest of America’s farmers and ranchers.
“We urge the administration to exercise caution in rolling out any new restrictions on doing business with Cuba that would limit our agricultural export opportunities,” Perdue said in a statement. “We should be doing more, not less, to encourage U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba. Our farmers and ranchers and the Cuban people would benefit from increased sales of high-quality, American-grown food and feed. The American Farm Bureau will continue to work with the administration and Congress to maintain and improve the conditions for agricultural trade with Cuba.
“Cuba is a $2 billion annual food-import market. Currently, because of some remaining restrictions, the United States sells about $200 million in agricultural products to Cuba, but that nation represents the kind of growth opportunity America’s farmers and ranchers need during this challenging economic period.
“Self-imposed trade restrictions have kept America’s farmers and ranchers from competing on a level playing field and have closed off one of our nearest ag export markets. Cuba has not purchased any rice or wheat from the U.S. in many years, instead buying from other countries around the world. As we cope with the biggest drop in farm prices in decades, we need to be opening up markets for American farm goods, not sending signals that might lead to less access.”