Thursday, October 8, 2015

Crawford floats Cuba trade bill

Crawford floats Cuba trade bill
It would end financing limits on sales of U.S. farm exports
By Sarah D. Wire

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., filed legislation
Wednesday aimed at making it easier to export American agricultural
goods to Cuba.

Most travel to and trade with the island nation 90 miles south of
Florida has been restricted for decades. Arkansas is a major U.S.
producer of rice and poultry, staples in Cubans' diets. So, Arkansas
farmers stand to benefit from increased trade with Cuba, Crawford said.

Only Congress can lift the current embargoes, and the House and Senate
disagree on what, if anything, to do about them.

Crawford's bill would repeal a law that prohibits banks and other U.S.
businesses from financing sales of U.S. agricultural exports. The ban
means that Cubans, who want to buy American goods, currently have to pay
cash upfront and that has stymied trade between the two countries.

Similar legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., was
added to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriation
this summer, but the spending bill has been held up by budget fights.

Crawford said Cuba imports the bulk of its food from other countries. It
gets its rice from Vietnam, for example. The CIA's World Factbook
estimates Cuba's population at 11 million.

"They definitely need commodities," Crawford said. "It's a significant

As the No. 1 producer of rice and a top producer of poultry, Arkansas
stands to benefit, Crawford said.

"Since rice and chicken are two of their favorites, it certainly plays
to our strengths," he said.

All of Cuba's agricultural imports from the United States are controlled
by the state-owned entity Alimport, which purchases products for the
majority of Cubans.

Crawford's bill upholds the cash-upfront requirement for goods sold to
Alimport or any other entity controlled by the Cuban government. It also
allows U.S. investment in agricultural businesses not controlled by the
Cuban government.

"We're trying to work outside of the realm of Alimport because that is a
regime-controlled entity. What we want to do is facilitate
private-sector investment and be able to access that market," Crawford said.

Arkansas is positioning itself to engage quickly when or if trade with
Cuba becomes easier. Last week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson led a delegation of
state government and business leaders -- including representatives from
Riceland Foods and Tyson Foods -- to Cuba.

Arkansas rice farmer and USA Rice Chairman Dow Brantley pointed
specifically to how Cuba trade would help Arkansas.

"Our congressional district alone grows nearly half of the U.S.' rice,
so we would certainly stand to benefit from open trade with the Cubans,
as would rice producers throughout the mid-South," he said in a
statement. "USA Rice has been working to remove the trade barriers for a
long time, and after [the] 55 years that the trade embargo has been in
place, it's time for things to change."

Tyson Foods Inc. supports the legislation by Boozman and Crawford,
spokesman Worth Sparkman said.

"We believe it will promote the export of poultry and other Arkansas
agricultural products," he said.

President Barack Obama has urged Congress to lift the embargoes on trade
and travel as the United States and Cuba normalize relations.

Some Florida Republicans are worried about resuming a relationship with
the communist country. Many Cuban immigrants have settled in Florida.

In a letter to Obama last week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote
that the reasons the United States put the embargoes in place still exist.

"Regardless of your beliefs, the U.S. embargo toward Cuba is codified in
U.S. law and the reasons that it was imposed, including the Cuban
government's theft of billions of dollars of private property, remain
unaddressed by Havana," the Cuban-American lawmaker wrote.

Crawford said resistance to normalizing relations with the island is a
holdover from the Cold War and no longer makes sense.

"We're really kind of dealing in an old vestige of a political dynamic
that doesn't exist anymore," he said. "Who we are really hurting is our
producers and the jobs associated with the [agricultural] industry and
the people -- not the regime -- but the people in Cuba who would like to
get quality food and who could get it quicker and more cheaply from us."

Metro on 10/08/2015

Source: Crawford floats Cuba trade bill -

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