Saturday, July 20, 2024

Cuba and the USA

Dwight Roberts President/CEO USRPA
Dwight Roberts President/CEO USRPA

Nurturing the seeds of a new beginning…finally.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

I am reminded of this Chinese proverb when I reflect on the foresight and perseverance that American rice farmers and their allies displayed almost 20 years ago.

It was then that the US Rice Producers Association (USRPA) organized a small team of rice farmers, wheat growers, a leading farm cooperative, a global agriculture exporter and a creative lawyer to urge Congress to enact an exception to the U.S. embargo against Cuba to allow for the export of U.S. food and agriculture products to Cuba.

Together with courageous members of Congress like Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri and George Nethercutt of Washington who took on the leadership of their own political party, this team planted the seeds that resulted in the enactment of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSREEA). Fifteen years later, the seeds of their idea finally appear ready to bear fruit for America’s farmers.

Re-Opening Largest Export Market
The recent action by President Obama to faithfully execute the intent of Congress in facilitating agriculture sales to Cuba has been a very long time coming. For the U.S. rice industry, it’s been an agonizing wait.

Before the embargo was imposed, Cuba was U.S. rice farmers’ largest export market. In the past 20 years, rice farmers have worked hard to open and build huge new markets for U.S. rice in Mexico and Central America and tried to use leverage to open other markets. But these markets have not offset the loss of markets like Cuba to self-imposed embargoes and the fierce competition from governments in other rice-exporting countries.

For years, both U.S. rice organizations have laid out all the positives of how normal trade would benefit farmers, millers, food processors, port workers and all the allied businesses and their communities, totaling close to $1 billion annually.

We all know that rice is basic to the Cuban diet. Cubans know rice as well as any consumers in the world, and even after 50 years of the embargo, Cubans still have a preference for U.S. rice.

However, this new chapter with Cuba is about much more than rice and agricultural trade. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s obvious to anyone, especially those who have traveled to Cuba, that the embargo punishes ordinary citizens.

‘Gratifying And Hopeful’
In spite of these many obstacles, Cuba enjoys a very high literacy rate and more high-quality trained medical doctors per capita than any country in the Hemisphere. Believe it or not, there is much that the United States can learn and benefit from in opening normal relations with Cuba.

What Alan Gross describes as our “mutually belligerent” policy as it regards Cuba also harms the United States’ stature among other countries in the world. This is part of the reason why last year by a vote of 188-2 the United Nations voted for the 23rd time to condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

It is a testament to the divisive nature of our politics that the faithful implementation of TSREEA enacted 15 years ago is viewed by some as “controversial” and by others as “ground-breaking.” For rice farmers, it is gratifying and hopeful. Like being thankful for a good crop in the field while climbing into the combine and keeping a wary eye for rain clouds on the horizon.

The US Rice Producers Association is particularly proud of the seeds that it helped to plant many years ago to allow the sale of U.S. food to nourish the Cuban people. We remain committed to bringing that crop to harvest.

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