While many political, economic and even religious policies and actions were tied up in President Obama’s decision to move to normalize relations with Cuba, the impact of greatest consequence for grain-based foods involves the lifting of embargoes and the likely resumption of normal trade between the two nations. Ever since the Castro Revolution and the seizure of U.S.-owned properties, including flour mills, dealings between the United States and Cuba have been at a near standstill in one of the last remnants of the Cold War.
While being able to participate in Cuba’s annual wheat import business, in excess of 500,000 tonnes a year, is a welcome market add-on for U.S. farmers, the embargo’s termination is most important for underscoring how ineffective trade limits are in bringing about significant change. Like the 1979 embargo put on grain exports to the Soviet Union by President Carter, as punishment for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the limits on Cuba have been totally futile in spurring liberalization.
It is no surprise that agricultural groups have been among the first to endorse the Obama decision. Notable among the voices in favor of the move was Cargill, which has a stake in Cuban flour milling. An executive of the company said that the elimination of technical barriers impeding agricultural trade will benefit the people of both countries. The move is welcome and long overdue.