Trumpís Cuba Moves May Chill Long-Sought U.S. Farm Export Push
††† Sales allowed on cash basis since 2000 rebounded under Obama
††† Agriculture lobbying continues as hopes for reform fade
by Alan Bjerga and Marvin G Perez, Bloomberg
June 15, 2017
A rollback of Obama administration efforts to open Cuba to U.S. tourism and trade may chill a rebound in agricultural sales to the island nation, setting back a farm-lobby push thatís weathered two decades.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled Tuesday that changes would come as soon as Friday, when President Donald Trump visits Miami. The moves may include new limits on travel and investment policies. While thereís no indications of a clampdown on agricultural sales allowed on a cash-only basis since 2000, cooled relations may drive buyers elsewhere, said Bob Young, chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington.
The agriculture sector has long advocated an end to the trade embargo with Cuba in place since Fidel Castro consolidated power in the early 1960s. Companies including agricultural equipment maker Deere & Co. and soybean processor Bunge Ltd., along with the federation, the biggest U.S. farmer group, have supported full farm trade.
"If we make it tougher on Cuba, there are other folks ready to line up and say, ĎWe can help you with that,í" Young said.
U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba rose to $221 million in 2016 after three consecutive annual declines, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data compiled by Bloomberg. Sales so far this year are outpacing last yearís by 19 percent.
Boosting trade with Cuba has symbolic significance for farmers beyond any financial benefit. The country lies only 90 miles (145 km) from Florida, and had traded sugar and grain with its larger neighbor for decades before the embargo.
"Does being a communist country mean people living on that island donít deserve to eat?" said Doug Keesling, who raises wheat, corn, soybeans and sorghum outside Chase, Kansas. "The goal is to feed the world, with the government getting out of the way." Keesling co-chairs the state support committee of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, which counts Cargill Inc. and Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. among its members.
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