Lincoln, Cantwell Call for Opening Agricultural Trade with Cuba

Washington – U.S. Senators Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., Chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., yesterday said relaxing restrictions on agricultural trade with Cuba is key to creating jobs and expanding exports from the U.S. agricultural sector.


In a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., the Senators urged Baucus to take up the Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2009 as quickly as possible. Both Lincoln and Cantwell are co-sponsors of the legislation, and members of the Finance Committee.


“As we try to find new markets for our exports, we don’t have to search further than 90 miles from our own shores. No country is better situated to take advantage of the consumer demand in Cuba than the United States, and no sector can expand our participation in that market more quickly and seamlessly than our agricultural sector. Cuba has an exceptionally large demand for rice, and as the largest producer of rice in the United States, Arkansas is ready to meet this demand. Opening trade relations with Cuba is long overdue,” Lincoln said.


“Expanding U.S. trade in countries such as neighboring Cuba will contribute to economic growth and job creation here in the United States,” Cantwell said. “We are urging swift action on this legislation because relaxing the U.S. governmental restrictions on agricultural and medical export to Cuba will benefit Washington state and other agricultural regions at a critical time.”


Text of the letter is below.


March 11, 2010


The Honorable Max Baucus


Senate Committee on Finance

Rm. 511 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510


Dear Senator Baucus,


We are writing to urge you to take up and report out of the Finance Committee your bill S.1089, the Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2009, as quickly as possible.  The President placed the appropriate focus of his State of the Union address on January 27th on spurring job creation in the U.S. economy, and we believe that a key portion of that agenda should consist of taking steps to expand U.S. exports.  For U.S. agriculture, no single action would send that message more clearly than for Congress to act to relax restrictions on agricultural trade with the Republic of Cuba.


In a July 2007 report requested by your Committee, the U.S. International Trade Commission found that relaxing trade financing and travel restrictions on Cuba could result in a near doubling of U.S. agricultural exports to that country.  A 2001 study by Parr Rosson and Flynn Adcock of Texas A&M University, estimates even greater gains, with annual exports totaling up to $1.2 billion if sanctions were to be fully removed.  Since the distance between Havana and the U.S. Gulf Ports is less than 700 miles, as compared to more than 1600 miles for Canada and 4000 miles or more for Brazil and Argentina, (our main agricultural export competitors in this hemisphere), we are blessed with a natural logistical advantage for shipping goods to Cuba that we should be exploiting.


While we do not condone Cuba’s repressive government, it is quite clear that our decades-old policy of attempting to weaken that government through economic isolation has failed to achieve its objectives.    If the U.S. government has been able to engage constructively with other Communist governments such as China and Vietnam, why not with the government of Cuba?


We believe that the groups most hurt by this policy are average Cuban citizens, and U.S. farmers and ranchers, who have been denied reasonable access to this nearby market for nearly 50 years.  Unlike most trade restrictions that U.S. agricultural products face, these barriers have been imposed by our own government, and should be removed.  If adopted, the provisions of S.1089 would go a long way toward achieving this goal.


With 19 co-sponsors (including the two of us), S.1089 already possesses a solid base of support.  We would encourage you to hold a hearing in the next few months to solidify the case for your legislation, then schedule a mark-up to report the bill out of the Finance Committee.  Cuba was once a major  export  destination for U.S. rice, wheat and other  agricultural products, and should be so again.  We look forward to working with you closely in moving this legislation forward.




Blanche Lincoln                                                         

Maria Cantwell