Opportunities for US agriculture, greater food security for Cubans

US food industry welcomes President Obama’s plan to normalize US-Cuba relations

By Heidi Parsons contact

- Last updated on GMT

President Obama delivers a statement on his plan to ease the US embargo against Cuba.
President Obama delivers a statement on his plan to ease the US embargo against Cuba.
President Obama has announced he is updating US policies on Cuba, including reestablishing diplomatic relations and promoting travel and trade opportunities between the two countries. Both Cargill and the USA Rice Federation immediately issued statements applauding the move.

“This move will drive growth in both countries,”​ said Devry Boughner Vorwerk, VP of corporate affairs for Cargill and chair of the US Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC). “It will create a new market for US farmers, ranchers and food companies, and give the Cuban people improved access to affordable food.”

One key element of the president’s plan that will facilitate US-Cuba trade is a provision allowing US and Cuban banks to have direct relationships.

“The changes to banking are very important because they will significantly reduce red tape and costs associated with doing business with Cuba,"​ said Betsy Ward, president and CEO of the USA Rice Federation.

Win-win situation

The USACC is a partnership of more than 20 US agriculture associations committed to normalizing trade with Cuba. The USA Rice Foundation is a founding member of USAAC. The nascent organization plans to launch itself publicly on January 8, 2015, Boughner Vorwerk told FoodProductionDaily.

map of Cuba
This partial map of Cuba shows the port of Mariel and Cuba's proximity -- just 90 miles -- to the coast of Florida.

“Our members represent business interests, but we’re also concerned with the welfare of the Cuban people,”​ she said. There are 11 million Cuban citizens who haven’t had access to the global marketplace for many years.”

“It’s important for Cuban citizens to be able to move up the economic ladder and have access to US goods — especially value-added dairy and meat products.”

Boughner Vorwerk said she and her fellow USACC members are “very pleased” ​with the lifting of travel restrictions to Cuba. “With tourism comes the ability to feed people due to the infusion of cash into the economy,” she pointed out. “There’s already a lot of international travel to Cuba, just not from the US.”

Commercial interests

The same is true for international commerce. As President Obama said in his speech, though this policy [the embargo] has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions — and it has had little effect, beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people.”

Boughner Vorwerk echoed that sentiment. Neither Americans nor Cubans have benefitted from 50 years of a failed policy,”​ she said.

port of Mariel, Cuba
The port of Mariel, about 45km west of Havana, is one of the largest deep-water ports in the Western Hemisphere.

“The trade embargo has only harmed the US image in Latin America. Trade liberalization is a tried and true policy — it only enhances our ability to engage with the governments of the countries we trade with.”

Trade is happening in Cuba – not with the US, but with other countries, such as Brazil and the European Union (EU) member states.

That’s why we’re working to end the US embargo on trade and investment in Cuba,” ​Boughner Vorwerk said. “If we can get to a point where we can compete with other nations – when we can trade as freely as our competitors can — there will be lots of opportunities for US agricultural interests in Cuba.”

To explore those opportunities further, Cargill will be taking an agricultural delegation to Cuba in March 2015, she added.

Related topics: Prepared Foods, Markets

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