Two farm state senators reintroduced a bill Thursday aimed at making U.S. agricultural exports more competitive in the Cuban market by allowing private financing of ag exports.
It was the first Cuba-related bill introduced since President Donald Trump has been in the White House. Three Cuba-related bills were reintroduced in the House in January before he took office.
North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and John Boozman, R-AZ, and a bipartisan group of 12 senators reintroduced the Agricultural Export Expansion Act, which would lift a ban on private banks and companies offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba.
Current law requires upfront cash payments for agricultural exports to the island, which farm state legislators say puts them at a disadvantage when competing against exports from other countries whose exporters sell to Cuba on credit.
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“This small step would help level the playing field for American farmers and exporters while simultaneously exposing Cubans to American ideals, values and products. This bill is a win-win for American farmers and the Cuban people.” said Boozman.
“Our farmers rely on exports, and exports help create more American jobs,” said Heitkamp. “Cuba is a natural market for North Dakota crops like dry beans, peas, and lentils, and there’s no good reason for us to restrict farmers’ export opportunities—which support good-paying American jobs—by continuing this outdated policy.”
Our farmers rely on exports, and exports help create more American jobs.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND
Since 2001 when the first exports of agricultural and food products were allowed under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, more than $5.3 billion worth of U.S. agriculture products have been sent to the island, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
In recent years such exports have dropped off from a high of $710.1 million in 2008 to $202.1 million last year. The main U.S. products exported in 2016 were frozen chicken, corn, and soybeans and soybean products.
Cuba imports about $2 billion worth of food annually.
“Being able to sell our commodities to Cuba just as easily as we sell to other markets like Mexico and Canada would be huge, especially for U.S.-grown rice,” said Jeff Rutledge, a Newport, Ark. rice farmer and president of the Arkansas Rice Council.
Other factors that have impacted the level of U.S. food and agricultural sales to Cuba have been Havana’s lack of foreign exchange, shifting commodity prices, restrictions based on an avian flu outbreak in the United States that affected poultry exports in 2015, and a Cuban government policy that at times has rewarded companies that lobby for the lifting of the embargo.
Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Warner (D-VA), Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) joined in cosponsoring the agricultural financing bill, which was first introduced in 2015.
Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi