Published On: Tue, Jan 3rd, 2017

US congressman to reintroduce legislation to ease trade restrictions with Cuba

Havana CubaWASHINGTON - A US congressman from Arkansas will reintroduce legislation to ease trade restrictions with Cuba, and says he's hopeful that barriers to agricultural sales will be addressed early in 2017.

However, it's unclear whether President-elect Donald Trump would be willing to support the bill, which is sponsored by US Rep. Rick Crawford, a Republican from Jonesboro, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported.

The federal government currently bars farmers from extending credit to Cuban purchasers. As a result, Cubans must provide "cash in advance" whenever they purchase US agricultural products.

Crawford's legislation would allow credit to be extended, a change favoured by many of Arkansas’ farm groups.

HR 3687, the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, also would have allowed Americans to invest in Cuban agricultural businesses that are not controlled by the government there.

Arkansas produces roughly half of the nation's rice. The state, along with Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina, also is one of the largest poultry producers.

Chicken and rice are dietary staples in Cuba, with a population 11.3 million, and Arkansas farmers are eager to do business there.

Crawford's bill had 48 co-sponsors but it encountered fierce opposition, particularly from the Cuban-American community.

"We're not trying to do anything that would empower the regime," Crawford said.

But America shouldn't surrender the Cuban market to communist competitors from China and elsewhere, he added.

"We can play a positive role there, fill that void, give them a cheaper, safer more readily available food supply or we can continue to view this through the lens of the Cold War and allow them to continue down that communist road that doesn't work for anybody," he said.

Over the past two years, President Barack Obama has taken steps to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba, opening an embassy in Havana, adding daily flights, removing barriers to travel and allowing increased imports of Cuban cigars and rum.

The prohibition on agriculture credit, however, remains.

Trump has been critical of efforts to normalize relations with Cuba and has threatened to reverse course once he takes office.

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