State ag leaders working to lift trade embargo with Cuba

Engage Cuba, a leading coalition of private companies and organizations working to lift the travel and trade embargo on Cuba, joined Kansas Wheat and local leaders to launch the bipartisan Engage Cuba Kansas State Council.

The council members, comprised of agriculture and business leaders from across the state, will build statewide support for congressional action to end the travel and trade ban on Cuba.

The council seeks to lift the travel and trade ban in order to allow Kansas farmers to regain lost market share in Cuba and support the island’s growing private sector.

“We’re very pleased to work with all of our Engage Cuba Kansas State Council members to lift the Cuba travel and trade ban that is costing Kansas jobs and preventing economic development for the Cuban people,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba. “It’s time to end 55 years of failed, isolationist policies toward Cuba.

“Kansas farmers are stuck on the sidelines as our foreign competitors continue to take advantage of Cuba’s growing markets,” Williams added. “Opening up trade with Cuba would provide tremendous opportunities for producers of Kansas wheat, livestock, and other agricultural commodities, and support Cuba’s growing private sector.”

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said Kansas agriculture drives the state economy and creates jobs across the entire state.

“Cuba has the potential to be a substantial market just 90 miles off our shore, but until Congress lifts the embargo, Kansas farmers and other small businesses will continue to miss out on export opportunities,” Moran said.

“The current low commodity prices make it clear that Kansas producers shouldnt be limited from exporting to Cuba.”

Jay Armstrong, past chair of the Kansas Wheat Commission, said with the current decade low commodity prices and pressures on the U.S. ag economy, the government needs to be fostering trade partners and relationships, not prohibiting them.

“Despite many difficulties associated with the U.S. trading with Cuba, it is apparent that we have a major transportation and logistical advantage in shipping, given Cuba’s proximity to the United States,” he said. “A level playing field with Canada and Europe is critical for U.S. wheat farmers to fully realize their export potential to Cuba. Kansas wheat farmers support ending the embargo entirely.”

As Cuba’s markets continue to grow given the rise of tourism and the increasing purchasing power of 11 million Cubans, demand for high-quality U.S. agriculture will continue to rise.

As a top U.S. exporter of agriculture goods and the largest wheat producer in the country, Kansas farmers would benefit tremendously from expanded trade with Cuba, according to Armstrong. Specifically, Cuba imports large quantities of wheat, soybeans, feed grain and corn, which are among Kansas’ top agricultural exports. Engage Cuba has launched state councils in 13 states, including Kansas, and will launch a 15th state council in Mis­souri this week.