WASHINGTON, DC - The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry held a hearing today entitled, "Opportunities and Challenges for Agricultural Trade with Cuba,"and given the Cuban taste for rice, U.S. rice was front and center.
"The U.S. and Cuba certainly have a long history filled with contention and instability...this is not an issue we are going to be able to fix overnight...it will take hard work to normalize trade with Cuba and decisions must be made carefully," said Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) in opening the hearing. "Today we will hear from an impressive panel of experts, from regulators responsible for writing our policies toward Cuba to the producers who want to grow the market for their products."
One of those policymakers was USDA Undersecretary Michael T Scuse who used rice as an example of a strong opportunity for U.S. agriculture.
"Our stakeholders have made it very clear that this is a country they want to do business in, and I'll give you an example - not because Betsy Ward is sitting behind me - but rice. Half the rice consumed in [Cuba] is imported and it's coming from Vietnam, it's not coming from the United States - and it should be," Scuse said in response to a question from Roberts.
Riceland Food's Senior Vice President for Marketing and Risk Management, Terry Harris, put a price tag on the market for the committee during his own testimony.
"Cuba is a significant market for rice, importing about $300 million worth of rice annually... with the lifting of the embargo and the restoration of trade and travel with Cuba, we estimate that the U.S. could regain 20 to 30 percent of the Cuban rice business within two years," he said. "We would anticipate the U.S. share of the market would exceed 50 percent within five years and could reach 75 percent or more within 10 years."
The tone of the hearing was positive, with the Senators in attendance focusing their remarks on understanding what, in the view of the witnesses, Congress could and should do to improve opportunities for U.S. agricultural trade with Cuba.