Published On: Thu, Feb 11th, 2016

Agricultural coalition applauds US-Cuba progress

Havana CubaWASHINGTON, USA - A coalition of America's leading agricultural organizations and companies dedicated to normalizing trade relations between the United States and Cuba celebrated its one-year anniversary by urging policymakers to end the trade embargo in 2016.

The US Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC), which seeks to enhance two-way trade between the US and Cuba, pointed to regulatory changes and Congressional activity on advancement of bills over the past year as clear evidence that the wheels of change are turning.

"USACC began its first year of existence on the common realization by US agricultural interests -- including producers, growers, companies, NGOs and state organizations -- that the ongoing embargo with Cuba has far outlasted its purpose, and now only serves as an obstacle to the common interests of the two countries," said USACC chair Devry Boughner Vorwerk. "Now only a year on we have seen a series of significant actions by the administration to achieve that objective. But there is more to be done, and all roads lead to Congress."

Over the past year, the USACC has been working with the administration and Congress to remove financing and trade restrictions that have limited the ability of the U.S. agriculture industry to competitively serve the Cuban market. The sanctions have caused the United States to surrender market share to competitors such as Canada, Brazil and Argentina.

The latest development last month -- the White House's announcement on January 26, 2016, that it will amend regulations to ease financing restrictions for certain types of exports and expand on earlier changes easing travel restrictions -- comes in addition to a series of historic actions taken by the administration over the past year, including the reopening of the US embassy in Havana in July, and a trade mission to Cuba in November 2015 by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"We applaud the administration's efforts over the past year to normalize trade relations with Cuba," said USACC vice chair Paul Johnson. "These long overdue policy changes lay the groundwork for opening a logical market of 11 million consumers. However, while we advance trade opportunities by allowing some products to be sold on credit, we should not exclude agriculture. Building a healthy agriculture policy with Cuba benefits not only US agriculture, but the lives of every Cuban. We believe Congress understands this and we look forward to working with them on placing agriculture on an equal footing."

"More work remains to be done to lift restrictions," Vorwerk said. "As we celebrate the successes of the coalition's first year, USACC will continue to work to create an environment where US agricultural interests can enter strong, bilateral relationships with Cuban partners, to the mutual benefit of US farmers, ranchers, agriculture businesses, and the people of Cuba.”

On Thursday, the coalition will host an advocacy day on Capitol Hill to call for the reestablishment of Cuba as a market for US agricultural goods and services. The coalition members hope to meet with key US Senators and Representatives who have influence over US policy toward Cuba – from members of Congress who are leading on legislation to expand trade with Cuba, to members that may not be aware of the US agriculture community's perspective and need to hear from their agricultural constituents on this issue.

The coalition plans to take a second learning journey to Cuba in April 2016 whereby it seeks to sign an industry memorandum of understanding in areas such as two-way trade, production, sustainability, investment, supply chain, and research and development. USACC's goal is to work with Cuban industry counterparts to develop concrete steps that improve collaborative efforts on food security for both countries.

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