U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, said Saturday (April 2) that a trip to Cuba this week will seek to create a good first step in opening new markets and opportunities to American goods in the Communist island nation.
Crawford, along with U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., will travel to Havana Wednesday (April 6) and meet with farmers and local co-ops about trade. The trip, which concludes Saturday (April 9), will focus almost entirely on agricultural issues.
Crawford announced the plans for the trip in February at an Arkansas Rice Council meeting in Jonesboro. Since then, the issue of trade in Cuba has been at the forefront of debate. President Barack Obama recently visited Cuba after relaxing some trade rules in late 2014, while the National Association of Manufacturers last week endorsed a plan to end the embargo in Cuba. Gov. Asa Hutchinson also visited Cuba last year on a trade mission.
Crawford has also sponsored H.R. 3687 – the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act. The bill, which has been sent to the House Agriculture Committee, would “exempt from prohibitions against U.S. assistance to Cuba any exports under the market access program, the export credit guarantee program and the foreign market development cooperator program, including any federal commodity promotion program obligations or expenditures of funds.”
Under the bill, a person would be allowed to invest in an agricultural business in Cuba if the U.S. departments of State and Agriculture “jointly determine that the agricultural business (1) is not controlled by the government of Cuba, including the armed forces, the Ministry of the Interior or any subdivision of either governmental entity and (2) does not traffic in property of persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction which was confiscated by Cuba on or after January 1, 1959.”
During the Jonesboro meeting, Crawford, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, said trade with Cuba would open a $26 billion market in the state. Crawford said the Latin American market is also key for one segment of the state’s economy – poultry.
“In Latin America, there is a huge opportunity for leg quarters,” Crawford said, noting the chicken parts are popular in Mexico and Cuba. “We are also number one in rice and number two in broilers.”
Trade would also open up rice production, Crawford said. “They could get a shipment in 36 hours from us or 36 days from Vietnam,” Crawford said. “Plus, ours is a lot safer.”
Crawford said he views the trip this week taking the long view on the issue, akin to a 1972 visit by then-President Richard Nixon to China.
That trip, Crawford said, opened up middle class and business opportunities in the Asian powerhouse Communist nation. As for Cuba, Crawford said the opposition to relaxing trade restrictions has come from people “who still view it through the Cold War lens.”
Crawford said while there are still problems in China and that “we are not endorsing the regime”, the opportunity for companies to invest in China and Cuba can open up the countries to American markets and ideals.
“In China, in 1972, you had 25 years of an embargo that was post World War II. Plus, we had been engaged in Vietnam 10 years prior to that,” Crawford said, noting the United States also trades with Vietnam. Crawford said he believes the embargo, which was signed into law by then-President John F. Kennedy, has ended up helping Fidel Castro and his brother, Raoul Castro, who run the country.
“It has not hurt Castro. Castro has used it as a propaganda tool,” Crawford said.
Crawford spoke to Talk Business & Politics Saturday (April 2) at the Weiner Pig Roast. The event is a fundraiser for the Jonesboro Miracle League field, which is used by children with special needs. The $3.2 million complex was paid for through grants and donations, while the Pig Roast has raised nearly $60,000 in the past three years for the project.