Engage Cuba supports Changing Trade Policy

(James Williams) Engage Cuba, the bipartisan coalition of private sector companies and organizations led by the private sector who want to see a new relationship with Cuba. They believe that after 55 years, the policy of Embargo hasn’t worked, it’s time to try something new. We advocate for lifting the travel ban and trade restrictions on Cuba. We’ve been launching state councils across the country and we’re thrilled to be in Kansas. The idea is to show members of Congress on the Hill the broad and diverse type of support that is out there for changing policy. We travel all over the country for this. Kansas is a perfect example- people from all over the state, all walks of life, all types of perspectives, political perspectives and everyone realizes the importance of trade and building relationships with other people for mutual benefit. We’re very thankful for the Kansas Wheat Association and others who are joining in this effort with us. It’s a new relationship with benefits for both Kansas and Cuba. (Ruben Ramos Arrieta) The conditions in place today for trading with Cuba are we have to pay in cash, in advance, with no access to credit. There are a lot of limitations with the use of the US dollar in the international transaction, its not a two-way trade between our two countries. (James) Yes, this really is the critical issue for agriculture today. Cuba imports two billion dollars worth a year of agriculture and less than 10% of that is from the US, even though if you look at the Caribbean, we have 60% to 80% market share there. Cuba is even closer than most for other trading partners and they’re buying things that are worth selling and making here in the United States. Credit is the single issue. There is a piece of legislation in Congress that would fix that. We’re not saying there’s no US government backed credit, we’re not even talking about an XM or USDA or anything, we’re talking about private funding from a financial institution. No US taxpayers are on the hook for this. This is a farmer’s risk, an agribusiness’s risk; they decide the business decisions just like they do for any other place around the world. We’re saying, “Give these guys a chance, and give our farmers a chance to compete.” The bill has passed the Senate, the Appropriations Committee, and we just had a hearing on it in the House Agriculture Committee last week by Chairman Conaway. The bill is sponsored by Congressman Crawford and Congressman Poe from Arkansas and Texas. We are in the final stages of hopefully getting it passed in the lame duck session. The House has been the hold-up. A little over 50% of the House now supports it, though we’re just hoping the leadership will let it out in the lame duck session and we’re optimistic they will. (Ruben) There are a lot of opportunities for Cuba in this market. It’s a close market. The introduction of freight transportation, we are thrilled to have the quality that we are looking for. But we cannot buy and pay in cash in advance with this horrible conditions so there are a clear affectation for the business sector here in the United States. It’s clear the damage to the Cuban people, to the Cuban population that is facing a lot of hardship because of these economic restrictions that we are still facing from the US government. (James) It’s really important that we’re building both the short term relationship, in terms of working on Congress and making sure that those laws change but then also building a relationship amongst each other and with our partners in Cuba because as everyone knows here in Kansas you can’t do trade unless you have a working relationship and understand the culture, you understand your buyer’s needs and interests. One of the things we’re doing, we’re really thrilled to have a Minister Counselor from the Embassy of Cuba here as well as three Cuban millers who are going to be joining Kansas this week, to start to further build those relationships so that when we do get this credit which we’re optimistic that we will, that we don’t have to sit around– we’re not waiting, we’re working now for the future. (Ruben) Well first, I have to express my appreciation to organizing of this trip, for having everything very well organized. We have a Cuban team coming, arriving today, for having a change– this is part of this unit to have a more open and honest relationship in the age of agricultural between the two countries. (James) I will work now so that when those opportunities come, we’re able to sell as quickly as possible. We also do trips to Cuba for delegations, for commodity groups and private citizens who want to go and build those types of relationships, and so we’re trying to make this a two-way relationship, also importing Cubans here and see what that’s like. In Kansas, we have a perfect example of leadership on that. Then, also bring Americans to Cuba so they can see what the life is like in Cuba, what their interests are, and what the perspective may be.

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