The Obama Administration recently announced a number of new directives that will bolster trade between the U.S. and Cuba. Although the effort has been seen as one-sided, it does continue to take steps in strengthening relationships with Cuba buyers.
“While the impact of these new rules on agricultural trade may not be immediately experienced, the enhanced engagement with the people of Cuba could offer long-term advantages for agricultural trade,” said Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union president. “Specifically, the new rules that lift the six-month waiting period for foreign ships to return to the U.S. after visiting Cuba will remove costly barriers for agricultural exporters.”
Trade vessels will now be permitted to return to the U.S. in fewer than 180 days after loading or unloading freight at Cuban ports. Previously, vessels would be required to stay at sea for a minimum of six months after stopping in Cuba, which discouraged trade and added logistical complexity for the maritime industry.
Another adjustment to regulations clears the way for agricultural items such as pesticides and tractors to be exported to Cuba without being paid for by cash in advance or through third-country financial institutions. While expensive, high-tech farming equipment may be out of reach for much of Cuba at the moment, the ability to import sophisticated agricultural technology produced in the U.S. will help strengthen Cuba's own agriculture industry moving forward.
Doug Keesling, the Kansas state director of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, said the announcement represents another “positive step forward in building relationships.” He added that although the document mostly deals with “removing restrictions of Cuba goods coming into the United States, we all understand the Cuban government needs money and currency as they import over 80% of their agricultural goods.”
The restrictions do allow U.S. consumers to bring back more cigars and rum from Cuba without limitations. Keesling noted that by selling more of their products, it “may give them more cash flow to buy staple products such as wheat, soybeans and some feed grains for their livestock.”
Rice producers expressed disappointment that the changes will not allow for more U.S. exports of rice to Cuba. "While we think the Administration's tweaks to Cuba-related regulations are a sign of good will, U.S. agriculture has been excluded again, and we just became the most disadvantaged industry in this situation," said Ben Mosely, vice president of government affairs for USA Rice. "This move further solidifies how singled out U.S. farmers are within the Cuba discussion; we can now buy their prized exports like rum and cigars, but they can't buy our crops? It's up to Congress to act this year to level the playing field for U.S. ag, giving us the same ability to extend credit that other products now have."
The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba represents about 120 national groups each working collectively on individual interests with the common goal of improving trade relations with Cuba. Cubans seek to normalize relations with the U.S., which would include the U.S. lifting the embargo, extending credit to Cuba to ensure future trade deals and opening borders, allowing U.S. citizens to travel as tourists to Cuba. A strong majority agree that both trade and tourism with Cuba are wins for the U.S.
A new poll from ZimmComm asked, “"How should U.S. normalize relations with Cuba?" The poll found that 12% agreed that the trade embargo should be ended, 6% said to allow U.S. tourism, 76% said both and 6% said neither.