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Last week the Obama Administration announced a number of new directives that will bolster trade between the United States and Cuba, and while one is particularly welcome, others point to the continued exclusion of rice – a potentially top export to the island if only remaining hurdles can be cleared.
On the positive side, trade vessels will now be permitted to return to the U.S. in fewer than 180 days after loading or unloading freight at Cuban ports. Previously, vessels would be required to stay at sea for a minimum of six months after stopping in Cuba. This rule that discouraged trade and added logistical complexity for the maritime industry is now history.
Another adjustment to regulations clears the way for agricultural items such as pesticides and tractors to be exported to Cuba without being paid for cash in advance or through third-country financial institutions. While expensive high tech farming equipment may be out of reach for much of Cuba at the moment, the ability to import sophisticated agricultural technology produced in the U.S. will help to strengthen Cuba’s own agriculture industry moving forward.
The change does not apply to commodities such as rice.
“While we think the Administration’s tweaks to Cuba-related regulations are a sign of goodwill, U.S. agriculture has been excluded again and we just became the most disadvantaged industry in this situation,” said Ben Mosely, vice president of government affairs for USA Rice. “This move further solidifies how singled out U.S. farmers are within the Cuba discussion; we can now buy their prized exports like rum and cigars but they can’t buy our crops? It’s up to Congress to act this year to level the playing field for U.S. ag, giving us the same ability to extend credit that other products now have.”