WASHINGTON–U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Michael Bennet (D-CO)reintroduced the Agricultural Export Expansion Act of 2019, legislation to remove a major hurdle for American farmers and ranchers to selling American agricultural products in the Cuban market. The bipartisan bill would support jobs in Arkansas, Colorado and across the country by lifting restrictions on private financing for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba.
“Arkansas farmers need new markets and one solution is sitting less than one hundred miles off our coast. Cuba imports 80 percent of its food, but Americans start out at a disadvantage since private financing is not allowed. Our bill removes this barrier, allowing our agricultural producers to compete, while simultaneously exposing Cubans to American ideals, values and products. It’s a small step, but one that can yield big dividends for American farmers and the Cuban people,” Boozman said.
“We’ve heard loud and clear that American farmers and ranchers want the opportunity to compete and sell their product around the world, including in the Cuban market. Despite our progress in the 2018 Farm Bill, existing trade restrictions with Cuba continue to put our farmers and ranchers at a disadvantage,” Bennet said.“This common-sense bill would unlock new market opportunities for Colorado farmers and ranchers who have a tremendous amount to gain from competing in the Cuban market.”
Boozman supported a provision to the 2018 Farm Bill that took steps to help American agriculture access the Cuban market by allowing funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture export promotion programs for U.S. agricultural products to be used in Cuba. However, the biggest barrier for producers as they seek access to Cuba is the Trade Sanctions and Reform Act (TSRA) prohibition on providing private credit for those exports, which forces Cubans to pay with cash up front for American-grown food. As a result, American farm goods have become less competitive, and Cuba has turned to other countries who are able to directly extend credit to Cuban buyers for transactions. This bill would amend the TSRA to allow for private financing of agricultural exports and level the playing field for American farmers competing in the global market.
Arkansas agricultural groups greeted the news of the bill’s reintroduction with optimism, highlighting the potential economic benefits it will have for the state’s producers.
“There are great opportunities for Arkansas agriculture to expand our markets, and also to go a long way toward improving the quality of life for the people of Cuba. If trade restrictions were removed, it is probable that the U.S. will immediately capture most of Cuba's $1 billion in annual agricultural imports. Arkansas, in fact, would benefit more than any other state, with more than $160 million in projected sales, primarily rice and poultry products but also beef and other commodities that are grown and raised in Arkansas,” said Randy Veach, President of the Arkansas Farm Bureau.
“We very much support the effort to unlock the Cuba market. We feel trade with Cuba is a great way to help our farmers find new markets and for our country to spread democracy and capitalism into areas in need of great change. Arkansas farmers are beyond ready to play a key role in this effort,” said Andrew Grobmyer, Executive Vice President of the Agricultural Council of Arkansas.
“The reintroduction of this legislation is welcomed with much excitement and appreciation from Arkansas rice farmers. Among a challenging planting season and highly uncertain market climate, this financing option could be the determining factor in conducting trade with Cuba at a crucial time for Arkansas agriculture. Senator Boozman has once again demonstrated his leadership through his persistence on this issue,” said Jeff Rutledge, Chairman of the Arkansas Rice Federation.
Original cosponsors of the Agricultural Export Expansion Act of 2019 include U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Angus King (I-ME), Mark Warner (D-VA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Susan Collins (R-ME), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and John Hoeven (R-ND).