Lifting Cuban trade restrictions could mean millions for Minnesota agriculture, lawmakers say

WASHINGTON – The latest effort to bridge the 90-mile gap from Key West to Cuba is being led here by a pair of Minnesota lawmakers who contend that easing restrictions on the island nation could mean millions for Minnesota’s agriculture industry.

“America’s current policies have failed to achieve their stated goal and instead they have hand-delivered an export market in our own backyard to the Brazilians, the Europeans and our other competitors around the world,” said Rep. Collin Peterson. “It’s time we ask ourselves why we have in place policies that simply do not work and that only harm U.S. interests.”

Peterson’s remarks came at the start of a House Agriculture Committee hearing he called to discuss his own legislation to lift the travel ban to Cuba and ease rules on agricultural exports to the island nation. Earlier today, Sen. Amy Klobuchar introduced a companion measure in the Senate. Both the House and Senate bills have Republican co-sponsors.

“The bill we have introduced would eliminate the requirement that our farmers have to go through a third country bank to do business in Cuba and would place agricultural exports to Cuba on the same terms for cash payment as other countries, requiring payment when the shipment changes hands,” Peterson said. “It would also make it easier for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, allowing American agricultural producers to more easily conduct business with Cuba and boosting demand for U.S. products in Cuba.”

Minnesota agricultural exports to Cuba more than doubled between 2005 and 2008, according to figures provided by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Currently, Cuba takes in $51.9 million in Minnesota agricultural products, most of it soybeans, corn, wheat and related products. State Agriculture Communications Director Michael Schommer said that figure is probably on the conservative side, given that the report doesn’t credit Minnesota for grains that originated in-state but were co-mingled into a shipment from another state.

U.S. exports currently provide about 30 percent of Cuba’s imported agricultural products, but a 2007 U.S. International Trade Commission report estimated that easing trade restrictions could see that number grow to between 50 and 67 percent.

“American famers can greatly benefit from access to new markets in Cuba at a time when our economy needs it most,” Klobuchar said in a statement announcing her companion bill. “This bill will create jobs by promoting U.S. agriculture exports.  In addition, Cubans and Americans will be able to engage in open communication, an important step towards improving relations between our two nations.”

The issue is politically sensitive for a host of reasons, not least the conduct of the communist Cuban government under former president Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, the current president. It has been widely reported that Cuba continues to jail and beat dissidents in an effort to suppress any political opposition, and the exile community concentrated in south Florida continues to largely oppose normalizaing relations. Peterson was careful to point out that his legislation would not lift the general U.S. embargo on the country that has been in place since the 1960s.

“I do not think any of the members here or any of the witnesses at that table today are supporters of the Castro regime,” Peterson said as the Agriculture hearing began. “None of us support the Cuban government’s detainment of political prisoners.  However, the policies we have in place today have done nothing to remove the regime or improve the situation for political prisoners.”

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by James Hamilton on 03/11/2010 - 04:18 pm.

    It is ironic that only an economic motive seems likely to lead to the removal of the Cuban trade embargo. It’s precisely what Fidel Castro would have expected from the United States.

  2. Submitted by William Pappas on 03/11/2010 - 07:46 pm.

    If the US normalized relations with Cuba the Communist government would dissolve in less than ten years. Everything said about Cuba’s human rights abuses can be said of China a billion times over. The US government’s Cuban policy has been an absolute disaster since Castro came to power achieving the opposite of its desired effect. Time to change course don’t you think?

  3. Submitted by Eric Larson on 03/12/2010 - 09:20 am.

    I can’t believe that I’m smarter then guy who represents all of Western MN. But can someone answer me this.
    Let’s pretend the embargo between Cuba and the USA is lifted. That means the BEST sugar cane producing region in the world will be available to US consumers again. It will take less then a generation to wipe out the american domestic sugar production market. I’ve tasted Cuban sugar in many forms. Even with the screwed up centralized economic system of communism, the sugar is superb! Like the cigars, no matter how bad the production system is, the raw product is good enough to triumph over socialist malfeasence. What happens when smooth efficient and effective production and marketing gets ahold of those cane fields?

    How is Congressman Peterson or future members from NW MN going to deal with the end of sugar beet era?

  4. Submitted by Patrick Guernsey on 03/12/2010 - 06:49 pm.

    This is about Florida’s electoral votes. I doubt we’ll see any significant changes any time soon!

  5. Submitted by Greg Klave on 03/12/2010 - 11:57 pm.

    “democracy is not a document much less a merchandise bought by some privileged people – it is the constant effort to seek people’s empowerment… acting directly to have people choose their candidates is not less democratic than taking that right away and giving it to the parties, to political machinery. Democracy came before political parties.” Ricardo Alercon, speaker of the National Assembly
    Cubans right now are nominating people from their communities to the Municipal Assemblies, from here elections will be held for the provincial and national assemblies. There is no money involved, you do not have to be a member of the Communist Party. Cuba has the fairest representation of colored, women and youth of the world’s democratic bodies. Far better than the US.
    Also the USA continues an inhumane embargo on Cuba forbiding the sales of ag and medical equipment that could help their people. The crony writing this article knows nothing about Cuba other than what the corporate$/corrupt politician$$ press releases tell him. He doesn’t even know for the last two years polls show the Cuban community of Miami has been against the tarvel ban and embargo 2 to 1.

  6. Submitted by Greg Klave on 03/13/2010 - 12:15 am.

    Here’s a story from the Miami Herald from a month ago.”The success of Los Van Van concert is another reflection of the change that has taken place in South Florida in the Cuban American community. There is growing support for cultural and other exchanges with the island, more opposition to the U.S. embargo of Cuba, and greater openness to discussing the gains of the Cuban Revolution.
    Los Van Van, who reside in Cuba, also played in Key West and will be back for a U.S. spring tour. When the members of the group disembarked from their plane in Miami, “enthusiastic airport workers” took their pictures, noted the Miami Herald.
    A decade ago, when they played in Miami, 3,000 protesters yelled insults, threw eggs, batteries, and other objects at the 3,000 people who went to the event.
    Mike Barry, a Cuban American who had also attended the 1999 concert, told the Miami Herald, “It’s not like last time, I think the community has changed a lot.”
    None of the Miami city officials who had actively opposed the Van Van concert in 1999 helped lead any campaign against it this time, including Thomas Regalado, Miami’s mayor, who as a city commissioner in 1999 participated in the protest in front of that concert.
    This time the Los Van Van band, founded in 1969 by Juan Formell, was joined on the stage by two well-known Cuban singers who now live in the United States—Issac Delgado and Manolín. They were also joined by Formell’s daughter Vanessa, a singer living in Miami.” This si another reason why you cannot trust the reporting of the MnPost team and editors. lack of knowledge and giving in to the status quo media corporate hack.

  7. Submitted by Greg Klave on 03/13/2010 - 12:27 am.

    The organized campaign against the Cuban government is aimed at accusing the island’s authorities of not providing medical attention to Orlando Zapata. Therefore, the Cuban counterrevolution and the US administration is determined to manipulate and hide all evidence to the contrary. Thus, the words of Orlando Zapata’s mother regarding the painstaking attention her son, who died last week after being transferred from a jail to a hospital,was receiving were never released. That truth was not convenient for the slander campaign against Cuba. Also that the so-called dissidents in jail were hires and paid by the US Interest Section in Havana to foment civil unrest. This has been proven in court and by their own testimony. The US has mounted terrorist campaigns against Cuba and let’s the terrorists run free in Miami while jailing the Cuban 5 who were attempting to identify the terrorists and their activity to the US authorities!”

  8. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 03/13/2010 - 10:00 am.

    I agree with William Pappas, but would give it two years instead of 10. The embargo is what the Castros use to justify their repressive regime, and if you take that away and expose the Cuban people to the freedom we have, change will come very quickly.

  9. Submitted by William Pappas on 03/15/2010 - 09:17 pm.

    Eric, there’s a very simple way to protect US sugar production. It’s called a tariff and I’ll bet Peterson could engineer that pretty easily. All the countries of the world use them except the US. China particularly. Due to corporate greed, from Clinton to Obama, their is virtually no political interest in helping the US produce anything.

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