The Rice Stuff Takes a 90-Mile Trip

The Rice Stuff takes an in-depth look at Cuban-U.S. trade relations
Jun 28, 2022

ARLINGTON, VA -- Cuba was at one time the largest export market for U.S.-grown rice, until the Kennedy Administration placed an embargo on the island in the 1960s. Times have changed, but the effects of that embargo persist: a food crisis in Cuba and the loss of a reliable, close export market for the United States. On Episode 48 of The Rice Stuff podcast, co-host Lesley Dixon and USA Rice Director of International Promotion Western Hemisphere Asiha Grigsby take a deep dive into Cuban-U.S. trade relations. 

This week’s guests Paul Johnson, chair of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, and Rodney Gonzalez, counselor at the Embassy of Cuba, discuss the island’s economic structure for purchasing, current lack of hard currency, food crisis, and what both countries can do to open up the market for more U.S. rice exports.

“It is increasingly challenging in the current environment to have hard currency, due to the nature of the economic sanctions,” said Gonzalez. “This is, of course, on top of the difficult conditions created by the pandemic. This is affecting Cuban economic behavior as a whole. We are trying to be increasingly present in the world economy, so if we don’t have access to hard currency, it is difficult to plan long term. And certainty is key for the economy.”

“There are ways we can export rice to Cuba without using credit,” said Johnson. “It will require more work, a deepening of the relationship between the United States and Cuba, and political effort. But there are commercial realities we can work with.”

If trade relations between the United States and Cuba were to ease, Johnson asserts it could help mitigate Cuba’s food crisis on several levels: by increasing the availability of affordable, quality food, permitting investment in local food production, and encouraging tourism.

“The trade relationship between the United States and Cuba is historically complicated, with big changes in the last several years and likely more to come,” said Grigsby. “Paul and Rodney did a wonderful job breaking down the complexities of the situation and peeling back the layers of the onion, so to speak. Anyone who wants to understand the role of U.S. rice in the Cuban economy, both current and potential, needs to listen to this episode.”

New episodes of The Rice Stuff are published on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month and can be found on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and online at