Bennet, Boozman reintroduce bipartisan bill to expand agricultural exports to Cuba
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and John Boozman, R-Ark., today reintroduced the Agricultural Export Expansion Act of 2019, legislation to remove a major hurdle for American farmers and ranchers to selling American agricultural products in the Cuban market. The bipartisan bill would support jobs in Colorado, Arkansas, and across the country by lifting restrictions on private financing for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba.
“We’ve heard loud and clear that American farmers and ranchers want the opportunity to compete and sell their product around the world, including in the Cuban market. Despite our progress in the 2018 farm bill, existing trade restrictions with Cuba continue to put our farmers and ranchers at a disadvantage,” Bennet said. “This common-sense bill would unlock new market opportunities for Colorado farmers and ranchers who have a tremendous amount to gain from competing in the Cuban market.”
“Arkansas farmers need new markets and one solution is sitting less than one hundred miles off our coast. Cuba imports 80 percent of its food, but Americans start out at a disadvantage since private financing is not allowed. Our bill removes this barrier, allowing our agricultural producers to compete, while simultaneously exposing Cubans to American ideals, values and products. It’s a small step, but one that can yield big dividends for American farmers and the Cuban people,” Boozman said.
The 2018 farm bill took steps to help American agriculture access the Cuban market by allowing funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture export promotion programs for U.S. agricultural products to be used in Cuba. However, the biggest barrier for producers as they seek access to Cuba is the Trade Sanctions and Reform Act prohibition on providing private credit for those exports, which forces Cubans to pay with cash up front for American-grown food. As a result, American farm goods have become less competitive, and Cuba has turned to other countries who are able to directly extend credit to Cuban buyers for transactions. This bill would amend the TSRA to allow for private financing of agricultural exports and level the playing field for American farmers competing in the global market.
Last Congress Bennet cosponsored Agricultural Export Expansion Act of 2019 after traveling to Cuba to discuss future opportunities for U.S.-Cuba cooperation on a range of topics, including foreign trade. The U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations approved the bill as an amendment to a financial services spending bill in both 2015 and 2016. This bill builds on Bennet’s previous efforts to enhance the relationship between Cuba and Colorado, which include launching a statewide council that would work to open trade opportunities to Cuba and end the travel ban. Bennet is a cosponsor of two bills, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act and the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, which would eliminate travel restrictions and allow businesses to work directly with Cubans to finance and ship purchases of American-made products.
“At only 90 miles from the southernmost point of the United States, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union has long believed Cuba should also be a natural export nation for our food and fiber products. To develop a new market requires investment and incentives in building long-term and healthy relationships. As a general farm organization, RMFU sees excellent potential in developing trade with Cuba,” Dale McCall, president of RMFU said. “We believe the Trade Sanctions and Reform Act of 2000 and the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program in the 2018 farm bill are tools that create a win-win situation if the Agriculture Export Expansion Act of 2019 becomes law. Together, these policies will create a flow of western and American agricultural products that will benefit both countries and lift the ban on U.S. private banks and companies from offering credit for the export of agricultural commodities to Cuba.”
“The Colorado Association of Wheat Growers supports this bill because it would remove the only real barrier we have to selling our wheat to Cuba. Cuba is a natural market for our high quality hard red winter wheat that already gets exported out of the gulf and travels right by them on the way to other, far-flung countries,” Brad Erker, executive director of Colorado Wheat said. “I travelled to Cuba in 2017, and sat down with their main government wheat buyers. It was obvious when talking to them that they will buy the kind of wheat we can grow in Colorado, at the prices we need to charge. The only thing holding them back was the financing.”
“Colorado Farm Bureau continues to support the removal of the restrictions on the credit financing of agricultural products for sale in Cuba,” Don Shawcroft, president of Colorado Farm Bureau said.
“We are pleased to see a bi-partisan effort to open the Cuban market. Colorado potato growers traveled to Cuba with a Colorado Department of Agriculture trade mission several years ago and determined then that Cuba is a viable opportunity for Colorado seed potato growers. Exports are of huge importance to the potato industry. We need to take advantage of this opportunity as soon as possible,” Jim Ehrlich, executive director of Colorado Potato said.