More than a dozen Democratic House members, including Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), signed on as co-sponsors of a bill to open Cuban markets to U.S. farmers. The “Free Trade with Cuba Act” was re-introduced by U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.). He first introduced the bill in 1993 and has pushed normalization of trade with Cuba for more than two decades.
Joining Rangel and Peterson were Reps. Chaka Fattah (Pennsylvania), Jan Schakowsky (Illinois), Karen Bass and Barbara Lee (California), Sheila Jackson-Lee (Texas), William Lacy Clay (Missouri), José E. Serrano and Gregory Meeks (D-New York), Jared Polis (Colorado), Bennie G. Thompson (Mississippi), Rick Nolan and Keith Ellison (Minnesota), Steve Cohen (Tennessee), John Conyers, Jr. (Michigan), Hank Johnson (Georgia) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).
“We have a ready-made market in Cuba, just 90 miles off our coast, yet the current embargo gives this market away to other countries, putting American producers at a disadvantage,” said Peterson. “This legislation will significantly open the Cuban market for our nation’s farmers and ranchers, who have struggled to get their products to Cuba due to the cash in advance requirement and prohibition of direct transactions. I have long advocated for legislation to expand U.S. trade with Cuba and the Free Trade with Cuba Act does just that.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Treasury didn't wait for Congress to act. The agencies announced regulatory amendments that go into effect on Jan. 16.
Earlier this month, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) and International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) joined other food and agricultural organizations in support of additional changes in U.S. policy to facilitate U.S. dairy exports to Cuba and permit open travel for all Americans to that nation. The dairy organizations are members of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, a coalition of more than 30 trade associations and companies championing an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
The dairy groups say one of the biggest impediments to trade is the lack of financing to allow for payment in a manner that it is commercially viable. They stressed the importance of policy changes that would remove costly and unnecessary burdens on U.S. agricultural exporters by allowing payment to pass from Cuba directly to U.S. banks in place of the current requirement that payments be routed through banks in other countries.