November 23, 2017

Ag Groups Are Concerned the White House is Working Backwards on Cuba and Ag Exports – Audio

President Trump was in Miami Friday, announcing new restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba, backtracking on the policy of greater engagement with the island pushed by the Obama White House.

The President made his intent very clear during his speech on Friday —  Listen —>      Trump Cuban Highlights

The ag sector in the U.S. has long advocated an end to the trade embargo that has been in place since Fidel Castro took over power in the early ‘60’s.  While Friday’s changes aren’t directly related to ag trade, farm groups worry the changes could harm export efforts.

USDA estimated last year that normalized trade with Cuba could add $1 billion in sales for U.S. farmers. Even under trade restrictions, the U.S. was the country leading source of imports from 2003 to 2012.

A statement from U.S. Grains Council (USGC) President and CEO Tom Sleight on changes to Cuba policy, announced Friday:

“The U.S. Grains Council (USGC) has worked in Cuba for nearly two decades to help capture grain demand and develop its livestock industry within the confines of U.S. policy. While the announcement today will make our efforts in Cuba more difficult – and almost certainly cost U.S. corn farmers sales in the short term – we have every intention of continuing our work there to build long-term, mutually-beneficial trade.

“In the first eight months of this marketing year, Cuba purchased more than 250,000 metric tons (9.8 million bushels) of corn from the United States, about 30 percent of their total demand. This shows both that Cubans want our product when its competitive to other origins and that we have significant room for growth given the right policy environment.

“The changes announced today are concerning because they could cut off these near-term sales while also stymieing the economic development that will drive long-term demand growth. Neither of those outcomes is favorable for the U.S. ag sector or the Cuban people, who do not have access to sufficient meat, milk and eggs.

“Cuba has historically been a 900,000 metric ton (35.4 million bushel) corn market; based on recent export sales, it would be our 11th largest customer if we could capture that demand. Free flow of grain to Cuba could also help us capture sales to the Dominican Republic and even Puerto Rico, an estimated $315 million in lost demand each year.

“In the past two years, our work in Cuba and with Cuban grain buyers has shown us that the only hindrance to progress there is U.S. policy. While we are concerned about the announcement today, we are steadfast in our support of the market and our Cuban customers.”

The following is a statement from Texas farmer Wesley Spurlock, president of the National Corn Growers Association, in response to today’s announcement on U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“Cuba should be an easy market for U.S. corn farmers. Instead, that market has gone to our competitors—costing us an estimated $125 million in lost opportunity each year. If trade with Cuba were normalized, it would represent our 11th largest market for corn. Instead, we have just 11 percent market share in a country only 90 miles from our border. 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.”