Senate Passes Bill To Expand Agricultural Exports to Cuba  

On June 28, the U.S. Senate passed, 86-11, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R.2) that relates, in part,  to U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba.[1]

After an amendment introduced by Senators Heitkamp (Dem., ND) and Boozman (Rep., AR) to allow for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct foreign market development programs in Cuba passed the Senate Agriculture Committee by unanimous consent on June 13, Senator Rubio (Rep., FL) expressed his opposition to the provision and a willingness to delay consideration of the full bill.[2]

Rubio first introduced an amendment on June 26 to deny export promotion until Cuba holds “free and fair elections for a new government,” but by June 27,  he had changed his approach. Speaking on the Senate floor, he said, “I am not going to object to the ability of American farmers to market our products to a market… But while you are there… you can promote it, but you just can’t spend any of these taxpayer dollars at any of the facilities or businesses controlled or owned by the Cuban military.”

Ultimately, after negotiation between Senators Rubio, Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Cruz (Rep., TX), on one side, and Senators Flake (Rep., AZ), Heitkamp, and Boozman on the other, the bill passed the Senate with the USDA export promotion provision intact, and a modifying provision that states financial transactions must adhere to restrictions set out in current regulations, including a prohibition on “transactions with entities owned, controlled, or operated by or on behalf of military intelligence or security services of Cuba.” Most U.S. entities are already barred from engaging in transactions with the businesses on this list.[3]

The bill on June 21 had passed the House, 213-211. The Senate and House versions will now go to a conference committee to try to iron out the differences.[4]

Obviously Rubio’s efforts to impose his anti-Cuba positions on everything failed this time although he publicly will never admit to such a defeat. Instead he proclaims his qualification to promotion of trade with Cuba as a victory.

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[1] Carney, Senate passes mammoth farm bill, The Hill (June 28, 2018).

[2] Ctr. Democracy in Americas, Cuba Central News Brief: 06/29/2018.

[3] Rubio Supports Farm Bill with Important Provisions for Florida Citrus and Agriculture (June 28, 2018).

[4] Library of Congress: Thomas, H.R.2-Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018.

Conferences About Continued U.S.-Cuba Cooperation on Various Issues 

This past week there have been two gatherings in Washington, D.C. focused on promoting U.S.-Cuba collaboration on various projects.

Environmental Sustainability and Historic Preservation[1]

 The first conference was on June 4, Advancing Environmental Sustainability and Historic Preservation in Cuba, that was organized by the Center for International Policy and the Ocean Doctor organizations. It explored opportunities for small-scale, collaborative initiatives to successfully advance environmental sustainability and historic preservation in Cuba and celebrated the release of the two organizations’ report, “A Century of Unsustainable Tourism in the Caribbean: Lessons Learned and Opportunities for Cuba.”

This gathering emphasized that Cuba has developed differently from any other country in the Caribbean. Many of its natural ecosystems remain remarkably healthy, and the country’s cultural heritage remains authentic and largely intact. The efforts to normalize relations between Cuba and the U.S. by President Obama fueled dramatic growth in tourism and interest in investment on the island, sparking concern that Cuba now faced the same scale of pressures that have resulted in environmental and heritage degradation throughout the Caribbean. With the advent of the Trump presidency and chilling of relations, some of these pressures have waned, but likely only temporarily.

One of the participants was Cuba’s Ambassador to the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, who underscored the actions of cooperation that continue to develop today between various U.S. governmental agencies and organizations and their Cuban counterparts. He  also highlighted the validity of the bilateral instruments signed between Cuba and the United States during the Obama Administration.

Among the other speakers were Salih Booker, Executive Director, Center for International Policy; Dr. David E. Guggenheim, President of Ocean Doctor; Robert Muse, Lawyer specialized in Cuban affairs; Dr. Brain M. Boom, Vice President for Conservation Strategy at New York Botanic Garden; Norma Barbacci; plus preservation consultants.

 Agricultural Trade Relations Between the Two Countries[2]

On June 7  Engage Cuba, a bipartisan advocate for U.S.-Cuba normalization, and the Washington, D.C. office of the McDermott Will & Emery law firm, sponsored a conference,  “Fostering bilateral agricultural and economic capabilities.”

The roundtable was composed of Senator John Boozman (Rep., AR.) Rep. Rick Crawford (Rep., AR). Rep. Thomas Emmer (Rep., MN) and Rep. Roger Marshall (Rep., KS) with Cuban Ambassador to the United States, José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, and moderated by James Williams, President of Engage Cuba, a  bipartisan  advocate for U.S.-Cuba normalization.

The event emphasized the necessity to lift the economic, financial and trade embargo imposed on the Island for more than 55 years and to stress the importance of reversing the failed policy of the United States towards Cuba.

Senator Boozman recalled that nowadays American farmers face a situation in which almost all the prices for their products are low, and that there is a market in Cuba, which can be provided with American products, given the Island’s high import of commodities. However, he said, “American agricultural producers face significant commercial barriers to trade with Cuba. Lifting the ban on private banks and companies from offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba will help level the playing field for our farmers while exposing Cubans to American values and ideals.”

“The U.S.-Cuba relationship is critical to our economy.” stated Congressman Emmer, the Chair of the bipartisan House Cuba Working Group, as he also reaffirmed his commitment to work for the lifting of the embargo and “to break through for a new chapter in our two nations’ history.” Rep. Emmer added, “The time to begin renewing our relationship with our neighbors just 90 miles of the Florida coast is now. With American farmers suffering some of the lowest commodity prices we have ever seen, Congress has an opportunity to take action and make real change. The Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, sponsored by Rep. Crawford, would lift financing restrictions imposed by the embargo on agriculture exports. The result would be relief for our farmers and a first step toward redefining the American-Cuban relationship. While my bill, the Cuba Trade Act, accomplishes the ultimate goal or lifting the embargo completely, passing Rep. Crawford’s bill can, and should, happen immediately,” He also pointed out how the failed U.S. policy towards the Island has had a negative impact on the Cuban and U.S. peoples.

Representative Crawford stated, “For years the United States has had an estranged relationship with Cuba and for years we’ve seen no reversal in the tactics used by Cuba’s oppressive government. Trade with Cuba is a vessel that will create change in Cuba and bring economic opportunity to American farmers. Most Americans agree that it’s time to lift the embargo on Cuba and Congress needs to meet that desire by working to pass my bill, H.R. 525 and others like it.”

Representative Marshall said, “With an open market to Cuba, Kansas could top $55 million in additional sales. While we are renegotiating our trade deals, we have a $2 billion market untouched right under our nose. It is time to throw support behind this mutually beneficial economic opportunity. It is through leadership in Congress, and discussions like this roundtable that we will begin to make these lasting changes.”

The Cuban Ambassador thanked the Senator and Congressmen for their leadership in this topic, highlighted that Cuba is an ideal market for American products and underscored the existing potential for agricultural and trade relations between both countries. He also recalled that Cuba and the United States signed two memoranda of understanding in the field of agriculture in 2016 and 2017, which are still valid.

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[1] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Experts debate about Cuba-US collaboration in topics such as environmental sustainability and historic preservation (June 6, 2018); Ocean Doctor, Advancing Environmental Sustainability and Historic Preservation in Cuba (June 4, 2018).

[2]  Cuba Foreign Ministry, U.S. Legislators advocate for trade relations with Cuba, Granma (June 8, 2018); Rep. Marshall: AR, MN, KS Lead Trade Talks with Cuba Ambassador (June 8, 2018).