Boozman, Heitkamp Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Expand U.S. Agricultural Exports to Cuba
New Bill Would Enable U.S. Exporters to Access Credit from Private Banks & Companies
Apr 22 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) today introduced a bipartisan bill to help support and improve the export of American agricultural commodities to Cuba.
The number one barrier that farmers and agricultural exporters in Arkansas, North Dakota and across the country have faced when trying to export to Cuba is a prohibition against providing lines of credit. Current law prohibits any kind of financing of exports to Cuba and requires cash payment up front, essentially preventing farmers and ranchers from being able to ship their products to Cuba. Boozman and Heitkamp introduced the bipartisan Agricultural Export Expansion Act, which would change a provision in current law, lift 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. The bill was also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
“Arkansas farmers are in a good position to benefit from exporting agricultural commodities to Cuba. But as was reiterated at yesterday’s Agriculture Committee hearing, farmers face significant commercial barriers when trading with Cuba. Cuba represents a remarkable opportunity for American farmers, and it’s also an opportunity for Cubans to gain access to safe, affordable, and high quality agriculture products from the United States,” Boozman said. “Increased trade and travel with Cuba will expose Cubans to American values and ideals. It is far more effective to have an open line of communication and a working relationship with governments in need of democratic assistance, rather than shut them out. ”
“While farmers in North Dakota and all across the country dedicate their lives to feeding folks around the world, we have to make sure our producers have the opportunities they need to get their products to market,” said Heitkamp. “The biggest obstacle in that effort involves private companies and banks not being able to provide credit to export agricultural commodities to Cuba, where these crops are in high demand. Especially in light of our country’s new policy toward Cuba, there isn’t any reason why Cuba should buy its black beans, peas, and lentils from Canada instead of North Dakota. When I was in Cuba last year, I spoke with top Cuban agriculture officials who would like to be able to access our products – so let’s make that happen. Our bill would enable North Dakota exporters to more easily enter the Cuban market, boosting our economy and communities right here at home.”
Since his time in the U.S. House of Representatives, Boozman has been supportive of efforts to end the embargo of U.S. agriculture exports to Cuba, relax the travel ban and loosen monetary restrictions. He has advocated policy changes to create new opportunities for Arkansas’s farmers and small businesses while pushing for human rights and democratic change in Cuba. Earlier this year, Boozman joined with Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to introduce the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 which aims to legislatively address the administration’s proposal to loosen travel restrictions to Cuba and remove restrictions on banking transactions incidental to travel.
For more than a year, Heitkamp has pushed to improve agricultural export opportunities to Cuba and make it easier for farmers to sell their crops – particularly pulse crops grown in North Dakota – to this high-demand market. In February 2014, Heitkamp visited Cuba with U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and met with Cuban agricultural trade officials, including Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, to discuss the bilateral economic benefits of expanding agricultural exports from North Dakota to Cuba. Last December, Heitkamp highlighted how federal action that was taken would help support agricultural exports for North Dakota farmers. And yesterday, Heitkamp reinforced the need to expand U.S. agricultural export opportunities to Cuba during a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing. North Dakota is the 9th largest agriculture exporting state in the country, with an estimated $4.1 billion in commodities sold each year in foreign markets. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, North Dakota agricultural exports support about 27,000 jobs.