Kansas growers lobby to open ag trade with Cuba

by Laura Lloyd
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U.S. exporting to Cuba
The Engage Cuba Coalition is a group of private companies and organizations working to end the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba.

KANSAS CITY — Kansas wheat farmers, as well as growers of other crops and livestock, want a shot at exporting to Cuba as the trade relationship with the United States and its neighbor shows potential for change. The Obama administration and Cuba renewed diplomatic ties in early 2015 after 55 years.

As a result, Kansas has become the 14th state to join the bipartisan Engage Cuba Coalition, a group of private companies and organizations working to end the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba, which remains in place despite the resumption of diplomatic relations.

Engage Cuba is the largest bipartisan lobbying group working on U.S.-Cuba policy, with branches in 14 states in addition to Kansas. The bipartisan Engage Cuba Kansas State Council will be comprised of leaders in agriculture and business from across the state, including the Kansas Wheat Commission,  groups representing soybean, corn and sorghum producers and other business leaders.

Their mission will be to build support for ending the U.S. trade ban with Cuba, which would require congressional approval. Lifting the embargo is seen offering Kansas farmers an opportunity to build market share in a variety of crops that Cuba already imports from countries other than the United States, including wheat, soybeans, feed grain and corn.

“It’s time to end 55 years of failed, isolationist policies toward Cuba,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba. “Kansas farmers are stuck on the sidelines as our foreign competitors continue to take advantage of Cuba’s growing markets. Opening up trade with Cuba would provide tremendous opportunities for producers of Kansas wheat, livestock, and other agricultural commodities, and support Cuba’s growing private sector.”

Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, said, “Cuba has the potential to be a substantial market just 90 miles off our shore, but until Congress lifts the embargo, Kansas farmers and other small businesses will continue to miss out on export opportunities.”

Jay Armstrong, past chairman of the Kansas Wheat Commission, noted, “With current decade-low commodity prices and pressures on the U.S. ag economy, we need to be fostering trade partners and relationships, not prohibiting them.”

President Barack Obama announced in 2015 the resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba, decades after ties were cut at the height of the Cold War. Despite changes in the relationship between the two countries, which has resulted in U.S. travelers being able to visit Cuba more easily and spend money there, the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba has remained in place. Experts continue to be skeptical Congress will vote to eliminate the embargo anytime soon.

In the 1990s, Congress passed legislation tying any removal of the trade embargo to Cuba holding free elections and transitioning to a democracy that excludes the Castros in leadership positions. Raul Castro has said he will leave office in 2018.  
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