US agri organisation says it is time to trade with Cuba

Major agribusinesses like ADM, Bunge and Cargill are members of the group pushing for an end to the US trade embargo.

US Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC), a group of US agricultural companies including ADM, Bunge and Cargill, and agricultural producer bodies like the Dairy Farmers of America, has called for two-way trade links with Cuba.

Cuba imports about 80 percent of its food and is a $1.7 billion market. The organisation believes that the US could competitively export commodities like rice, wheat, corn and chicken to the country while importing organic fruits and vegetables, coffee, and aquaculture products from Cuba as well as well-known products like sugar and rum.

US food and agriculture companies can now technically export to Cuba, which is only 90 miles from the US. However, financing and trade restrictions imposed by the US limit US producers’ power to be competitive in the Cuban market, where competitors like Canada, Brazil, EU countries and Argentina can trade more freely. Restrictions include requiring Cuban buyers to pay for agriculture products in cash or use third-party financing.

The position taken by USACC, formed only a year ago, mirrors sentiment among senior politicians that the trade embargo with Cuba is now outdated.

Last November, agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack went on a trade mission to Cuba; last month’s White House announcement that it will amend regulations and ease financing restrictions for certain types of exports have also encouraged free trade supporters that could profit from greater trade relations with Cuba.

A USACC spokeswoman told Agri Investor: “Normalising trade relations between the United States and Cuba will enhance Cuban citizens’ access to affordable food while providing the US farm and business community with new market access opportunities.”

The group is supportsing the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, which would repeal legal restrictions against doing business with Cuba, including the trade embargo.

“These long overdue policy changes lay the groundwork for opening a logical market of 11 million consumers. However, while we advance trade opportunities by allowing some products to be sold on credit, we should not exclude agriculture,” said USACC vice chair Paul Johnson.

The Coalition will travel to Cuba in April hoping to sign an industry memorandum of understanding in areas such as two-way trade, production, sustainability, investment, supply chain, and research and development. They will also continue to lobby the government.

“We have seen a series of significant actions by the Administration to achieve that objective [of removing financing and trade restrictions]. But there is more to be done, and all roads lead to Congress,” said USACC chair Devry Boughner Vorwerk in a statement.

The USACC ultimately seeks to end the embargo and allow for open trade and investment.