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American Shipper

U.S. farmers want Cuba trade open

U.S. farmers want Cuba trade open

   U.S. farmers are pressing Capitol Hill to approve recently proposed legislation to eliminate financing and travel restrictions affecting agricultural trade with Cuba.

   'If I can leave you with one thing to remember today, it is that the Cuban embargo is working; it is working against U.S. farmers and ranchers,' Bart Schott, first vice president of the National Corn Growers Association, told members of the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday.

   The committee heard a panel of agriculture trade group representatives explain their frustrations with exporting to Cuba under the current set of U.S. export controls for that country. The groups want Congress to pass the proposed Travel Restrictions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (H.R. 4645).

   'U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba have cost U.S. farmers and businesses billions of dollars in exports to the Cuban market,' said Scott Fritz, board member of the American Soybean Association. 'In a time of economic downturn, we can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch our competitors continue to supply a market where we have a natural advantage.'

   H.R. 4645 would eliminate the need to go through banks in other countries to conduct agricultural trades and the accompanying fees those banks charge. The bill would also require agricultural exports to Cuba to meet the same payment requirements as exports to other countries, which means payment would be required when the title of the shipment changes hands, not in advance. Finally, the bill would allow U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, reducing red tape required for individuals to travel to Cuba to facilitate new agriculture sales, Fritz explained.

   In 2008, there were more than $134 million worth of soy products exported to Cuba. If current policies that require third country banks, cash advance payments and limits on travel were lifted, these exports would be expected to increase, Fritz said.

   In February, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson introduced H.R. 4645. The bill is co-sponsored by more than 34 members of Congress — Democrat and Republican.

   'The restrictions on agricultural trade with Cuba have failed to achieve their stated goal, and instead they have hand-delivered an export market in our own backyard to the Brazilians, the Europeans and our other competitors around the world,' Peterson said. 'It's time we ask ourselves why we have in place policies that simply do not work and that only harm U.S. interests.' ' Chris Gillis

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