WASHINGTON — Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Thursday that she is bullish on the impact improved relations with Cuba will have for the Minnesota agriculture industry.
Klobuchar told a newly formed coalition of agriculture interests that trade and travel provisions within President Obama’s shift in Cuba policy last month represents an opportunity to tap into a new market of potential consumers in the nation.
Current law allows for some agricultural exports to Cuba, but groups say more would be a boon for their industry and the American economy. Minnesota exported about $20 million worth of agricultural goods to Cuba in 2013, Klobuchar said. It’s not a major market for the state, which exported $8.2 billion in agricultural goods in 2012, but Klobuchar said Obama’s move could lead to up to $20 million in new exports for Minnesota agriculture.
“We see Cuba as a market of 11 million people, 11 million new customers that can buy American products, and to me, that means jobs in America,” Klobuchar said.
For more than 50 years, the U.S. has enforced a trade embargo against Casto-led Cuba, but in December Obama announced he would begin moving toward normalized relations with the nation, just 90 miles off the coast. That means easing travel restrictions and moving toward more open trade, though the embargo will remain in place until Congress removes it.
Many Republicans, and some Democrats, have opposed Obama’s Cuba policy, and Klobuchar said ending the embargo wouldn’t be at the top of Congress’ Cuba agenda this session. She said lawmakers’ first task should be monitoring Cuban progress on internal reforms and the degree to which the new policy is helping U.S. economic interests.
“I think it’s first defensive, and then we move on from there,” she said. “I think the first moves, clearly, are going to be the moves of the administration and our working to get diplomatic relations going, and then we’ll move from there in terms of what legislative efforts would help to expand on what they’re doing.”
Klobuchar, along with a few other members of Congress and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, spoke at the National Press Club to the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, made up of interest groups and companies like Minnesota’s Cargill that are pushing for better American trade policies toward Cuba.
DeVry Boughner Vorwerk, a Cargill Vice President and the chair of the coalition, said agriculture interests have long wanted a better American relationship with Cuba, a goal that has grown more popular with the public since Obama’s announcement in December.
“We are re-energized to establish Cuba as a market for U.S. food and agriculture exports, and as an industry to advance the end of the embargo,” she said in a speech. “The sanctions are harmful to the citizens of Cuba and harmful to our industry.”
Devin Henry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry