U.S. Rep. Crawford Introduces Cuba Agricultural Exports Act

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A bill that would seek to modify the prohibition on United States assistance and financing for certain exports to Cuba under current federal law was introduced Tuesday in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, introduced the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act.

Crawford, along with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, sponsored the bill, which will be referred to the House Agriculture Committee on which Crawford sits.

Under the bill, the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act would provide new economic opportunities and jobs for America’s agriculture industry by providing access to a market that is valued at over $1 billion per year, Crawford said in a press release.

Under current law, U.S. producers are permitted to export agricultural commodities to Cuba. However, restrictions on financing and marketing harm American competitiveness in the Cuban market and limit export potential. The Cuba Agricultural Exports Act would repeal restrictions on export financing and give producers access to Department of Agriculture marketing programs that help the U.S. compete in foreign markets.

The bill would also enable limited American investment in Cuban agribusinesses, as long as stateside regulators certify the entity is privately-owned and not controlled by the government of Cuba, or its agents.

Crawford said Tuesday that the bill would strike the right balance in going to a new market as well as protecting freedoms.

“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. 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,” Crawford said.

“Not only is it estimated that Cuba imports around 80% of its food supply, but the U.S. also enjoys an inherent advantage due to our close geographic proximity and state of the art production and food distribution infrastructure. 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,” Crawford added.

According to the bill, the United States Department of Treasury in 2005 published a final rule narrowing the definition of “cash in advance” for trading with Cuba.

The rule would require that cash payments must be made before United States products leave United States ports, rather than the more customary payment upon delivery.

American firms are prohibited from offering credit to ALIMPORT, a state-owned and state-controlled entity that makes all decisions regarding United States imports to the Cuban market, resulting in declining United States agricultural exports to Cuba, Crawford said.

Notably, rice exports fell from a value of $64 million in 2004 to zero dollars in 2009 and subsequent years due to the rule, the bill noted.

“Recent action by the administration reverses that change to the definition of cash in advance, but United States agricultural exporters are still not permitted to extend credit to Cuban buyers, a key disadvantage relative to other exporting nations,” the bill said.

A delegation from Arkansas, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson, recently returned from a trade mission to Cuba.