Farmers Blast Trump’s Cuba Retreat as Bad for Trade
June 17, 2017 4:55 AM
U.S. farm groups criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to retreat
from his predecessor’s opening toward Cuba, saying it could derail huge
increases in farm exports that totaled $221 million last year.
A trade delegation from Minnesota, one of the largest U.S. agriculture
states, vowed to carry on with its planned visit to Cuba next week.
“We’re going to continue to beat the drum and let them (the Trump
administration) know that trade is good for agriculture,” said Kevin
Paap, a farmer in the delegation.
Trump signed a presidential directive Friday rolling back parts of
former President Barack Obama’s opening to the Communist-ruled country
after a 2014 diplomatic breakthrough between the two former Cold War foes.
Farm groups saw the move as a step backward in what had been an
improving trade relationship between the two countries, which are 90
miles (145 kms) apart, even though agriculture is not directly targeted.
U.S. law exempts food from a decades-old embargo on U.S. trade with
Cuba, but cumbersome rules on how transactions were executed have made
deals difficult and costly.
Since Obama’s detente, substantial headway has been made with shipments
of U.S. corn and soybeans to Cuba soaring 420 percent in 2016 from a
year earlier to 268,360 tons, U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows.
Through the first four months of 2017, total shipments of U.S. grain and
soy were 142,860 ton, up from 49,090 tons during the same period of 2016.
While the quantities are dwarfed by total U.S. exports — nearly 56
million ton of corn alone last year — the added volumes were welcome as
farmers face a fourth year of languishing grain prices and crimped incomes.
“At a time when the farm economy is struggling, we ask our leaders in
Washington not to close doors on market opportunities for American
agriculture,” Wesley Spurlock, president of the National Corn Growers
Association, said in a statement.
The group sees an opportunity for $125 million more a year in trade to Cuba.
Trump’s move could cut off near-term sales and stymie economic
development that would drive longer-term demand growth, said Tom
Sleight, president of the U.S. Grains Council, a grain trade development
organization, in a statement.
“Neither of those outcomes is favorable for the U.S. ag sector or the
Cuban people,” he added.
Paap said the United States should be doing more to encourage exports.
“It’s frustrating because we’ve made some advances and built those
relationships,” he said.
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