Legislation that could help reduce the financing and marketing issues that have resulted in U.S. rice exports to Cuba drying up to a trickle has been introduced by Rep. Rick Crawford of Arkansas.
Under current law, U.S. producers are permitted to export agricultural commodities to Cuba, which was once one of the largest markets for U.S. rice. But restrictions on extending credit and marketing make it difficult for the Cuban government to buy U.S. grain or other agricultural commodities.
On Tuesday (Oct. 6th) Rep. Crawford introduced H.R. 3687, the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, on behalf on himself, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas.
“While the administration has called on Congress to repeal the embargo entirely, I think the correct approach is to make cautious and incremental changes to current Cuba policies in ways that benefit the United States,” said Crawford. “The Cuba Agricultural Exports Act would allow our producers to compete on a level playing field in the Cuban market, a significant opportunity for American farmers and ranchers.”
The Cuba Agricultural Exports Act would repeal restrictions on export financing and give producers access to U.S. Department of Agriculture marketing programs that help the US compete in foreign markets. The bill also enables limited American investment in Cuban agribusinesses.
It’s estimated the Government of Cuba imports around 80 percent of the island’s food supply. U,S, exporters enjoy an inherent advantage due to the close geographic proximity and state-of-the-art production and food distribution infrastructure.
Foundation for change
“I believe that agriculture trading partnerships with Cuba will help build a foundation of goodwill and cooperation that will open the door to long-sought reforms in the same the way that American influence has brought reform to other communist states,” said Crawford.
“I’m excited to see my Congressman (Representative Crawford) introduce a bill that would positively affect so many parts of the U.S. rice industry," said Dow Brantley, Arkansas rice farmer and USA Rice Federation chairman,. “Our Congressional district alone grows nearly half of the U.S.'s rice – so we would certainly stand to benefit from open trade with the Cubans – as would rice producers throughout the Mid-South.
“USA Rice has been working to remove the trade barriers for a long time, and after 55 years that the trade embargo has been in place, it's time for things to change. It's my hope that the rest of Congress will join the sponsors in supporting this legislation, which has the potential to seriously strengthen the agricultural economy.”
"Congress needs to equalize the field of operations for our businesses by allowing them to negotiate cash, credit, whatever they feel comfortable with and the level of risk they wish to take,” said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who recently returned from a trip to Cuba. “Right now, we can't even negotiate a credit sale, and that's not customary in the market.”
Limited market for shipping
“We have been looking for opportunities to sell rice to Cuba for some time and it's always been held up because of the financing issue,” said Keith Gray, a Texas-based rice miller with Riviana Foods. “This bill would be a game-changer and I think it's the best option put forward so far to open up the Cuban market for our rice.”
“As a long-grain rice grower I have a limited market for my rice to be shipped," said Daniel Berglund, Texas rice farmer and USA Rice Farmers board member. "Opening up an essentially new market this close to home would be a huge help with moving our production which should help in lifting our prices out of this slump. Reducing our shipping miles allows Texas and all U.S.-grown rice for that matter to remain extremely competitive price-wise.”
For more on the U.S. embargo of Cuba, visit http://www.usagcoalition.com/.