USA Rice Continues to Push for Open Trade with Cuba

Click here to hear thoughts on Cuba and rice from Congressmen Abraham, Crawford, and Poe.
Rep Ted Poe
WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba celebrated their one-year anniversary here today with a renewed call for action to lift the embargo between the United States and Cuba, and to ease the way for trade for U.S. agricultural products.

The press conference featured keynote remarks from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, who headlined the Coalition kick-off last year and was described as “the first Administration official to publicly vocalize support for the lifting of the embargo, especially for agricultural products.”

Vilsack spoke about the potential importance of the market, and the value of being able to use promotion check-off dollars in Cuba, and the need to have USDA officials on the ground in Cuba.

He said, “Until we have improved relations, we are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to accessing the Cuban market.  We need people on the ground in Cuba to talk about our products’ quality, quantity, and stability of supply.”

Of course USA Rice has existing relationships there having participated in the Havana Trade Fair since the 1990’s, and meeting with ALIMPORT, the government agency that coordinates all overseas purchases and authorizes the import of products to Cuba, as recently as last fall.

Cuban Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas was interviewed at the press conference and several Members of Congress were also in attendance, including rice state legislators Rick Crawford (R-AR), Ted Poe (R-TX), and Ralph Abraham (R-LA).

Crawford told the crowd, “We are punishing ourselves [with this embargo].  Now is the time to take action.”  Poe called for Congress to “lift the financial restrictions…to allow American banks to take the risk and get American agriculture products overseas.”  And Abraham emphasized the proximity of U.S. infrastructure and products, saying, “With our shipping, trucking, and ancillary services, we can get American products to Cuba in 36 hours.”

Prior to the press conference, Vilsack met privately with representatives from the Coalition.  Ben Noble, executive director of Arkansas Rice, thanked the Secretary for his support on this issue.  Noble also represented USA Rice on a panel with other commodity groups discussing the effects the embargo has had on agriculture.  He said, “When the embargo was put in place there were decades where there were no rice sales to Cuba.  Back in 2000 when the law was changed to allow cash sales, we saw an increase in activity.  Unfortunately, that opportunity was shut down and we lost one of our top export markets.”

He concluded, “USA Rice continues to support all legislative efforts to lift the trade embargo with Cuba that will allow for free and unfettered trade.”