Opinion Columns & Blogs

Opening trade helps Cuba, Kansas

With current decade-low commodity prices and pressures on the U.S. agriculture economy, we need to be strengthening trade relationships, not prohibiting them. After 55 years of failed policy, it’s time for Congress to lift the travel and trade embargo on Cuba.

This will benefit the Cuban people and the Kansas agribusiness industry, a significant contributor to our state’s economy.

Cuba’s private sector is expanding rapidly, creating growing markets across almost every sector of Cuba’s economy, particularly in agriculture. There is a demand in Cuba for high-quality agricultural commodities, and Kansas can meet those needs. But trade restrictions are making it virtually impossible for Kansas farmers to compete in Cuba’s growing markets.

Cuba currently imports 80 percent of its food, or almost $2 billion annually. With a population of 11 million people and foreign visitors topping 3.5 million last year and growing, Cuba’s need for agricultural imports will only continue to grow.

Cuba’s top agricultural needs are major export products of Kansas. Cuba is the largest market in the Caribbean for wheat, a top agricultural export and $990 million industry in Kansas. In nearby countries, such as the Dominican Republic, the United States wheat market share is more than 90 percent on average. But in Cuba, the U.S. market share has dropped to zero as Cuba imports all of its wheat from foreign competitors.

Cuba must also increase its supply of soybeans, feed grains, and corn – additional top Kansas agricultural exports – as the island develops a more robust livestock sector.

Current U.S. trade restrictions make it virtually impossible for Kansas farmers to compete in Cuba’s growing markets. Kansas agriculture has seen a vast drop in Cuba’s market share over the past 20 years due to U.S. law that restricts the ability of U.S. farmers to offer credit for the agricultural exports to Cuba. That means, in order to import U.S. agriculture, Cuba must pay cash in advance.

As a cash-poor country, Cuba imports from foreign competitors with more favorable financing options, even though Cuba is located only 90 miles off of our shores. Instead of increasing Kansas exports, creating more jobs across the state, and providing Cubans with high-quality Kansas agriculture products, Kansas farmers are losing market share to countries on the other side of the world – all because of U.S. policy.

There is a bill in Congress – the Agricultural Export Expansion Act – that would remove restrictions on offering credit for the export of agricultural commodities to Cuba – a provision that Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., has supported.

Kansas agribusiness is an economic driver for the entire state. The industry, which supports 17 percent of our labor force, or some 250,000 workers, would benefit tremendously from allowing our Kansas farmers to export agriculture to Cuba without arbitrary restrictions.

Mike Jordan of Beloit is president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers.

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