Weekly Columns

Governor Asa Hutchinson recently led a delegation of Arkansans to Cuba to examine trade opportunities for our state. The governor is planning for the future and positioning Arkansas “as the leading state for trade with Cuba.” I agree with that assessment. 

Arkansas is uniquely positioned on the Mississippi River to export goods to Cuba. We produce high quality foods that are staples of the Cuban diet – rice and chicken. We're the top rice-producing state in the nation and one of the top producers of broiler chickens. Cuba imports about 80 percent of its food, making it an attractive export market for farmers in Arkansas. 

Building an economic relationship with Cuba will open doors for Arkansas agriculture. Estimates indicate that our state could add nearly $80 million annually to its economy by exporting to Cuba.

I’m proud of the foundation Arkansas’s government and business leaders are building for future trade relationships. It’s time for Washington to join these efforts and reduce trade barriers so that Arkansans are able to compete in the global market. This is a commonsense approach to spurring economic growth. 

I've been working to open the Cuban market to Arkansas products since I came to Congress in 2001. I have been a long-time supporter of efforts to end the embargo of U.S. agriculture exports to Cuba, relax the travel ban and loosen monetary restrictions. What we've done for the last 50 years hasn't worked. Change is underway, and it’s time for Congress to update our policies toward Cuba. 

In April, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and I introduced the Agriculture Export Expansion Act. This legislation breaks down the main barrier that farmers and agriculture exporters in our states face when trying to export to Cuba- the ban on private credit for transactions in the Cuban marketplace. 

This bill would end the ban on private banks and companies from offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba, and help level the playing field for U.S. farmers and exporters. This would allow Arkansas’s agriculture products to more easily enter the Cuban market. 

Governor Hutchinson acknowledged that authorizing credit sales to Cuba is a key component to establishing trade. I couldn’t agree more. Washington should provide the tools our businesses need to grow and thrive. The Agriculture Export Expansion Act is a step in the right direction. 

In July, I included this measure in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill I oversee as chairman. The committee approved two other amendments to modernize our policy with Cuba. The first would end restrictions on travel to Cuba unfairly imposed on American citizens and the second would repeal the law that prevents any ship that has docked in Cuba from loading or unloading any freight in the U.S. for 180 days. 

Reforming our policies with Cuba will increase opportunities for Arkansas exports. When you trade goods and services, you also trade ideas, and that's how you change the world. Exposing Cubans to American ideals will improve the relationship between our countries and create jobs here at home.