US Agriculture to Press Congress to Lift Cuba Blockade

Several powerful agriculture corporations have stated they intend to pressure U.S. legislators to remove the extreme economic measure against Cuba. 

(Telesur) – U.S. agricultural interests will lobby Congress in the run-up to hearings on President Barack Obama’s recently announced Cuba policy, an industry group announced.

Leading up to the congressional debate in the coming weeks, the recently created U.S. Agriculture Commission for Cuba, which is formed by nearly 30 companies from the country’s agricultural sector, said Thursday that they will pressure congress to entirely lift an embargo on Cuba in order to win a larger share of its exports to the island nation in the wake of President Obama’s decision to renew diplomatic relations with Havana.

Cuba imports 80 percent of the food it consumes, a market estimated to be worth nearly US$1.7 billion. The U.S. had had a small share of US$253 million of this market in 2014. 

Despite the heavy reliance on agricultural imports, the Cuban government has managed to achieve significant progress in the area of food sovereignty. 

In December, Theodore Friedrich, representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) mission to Cuba, asserted that the island is moving toward food independence. He went on to highlight the importance of Cuba’s domestic agricultural policies that include measures that support the development of local mini-industries and that lends assistance to small-scale farmers.  

The recent endorsement by the U.S. Agriculture Commission for Cuba also coincides with backing from the American Farm Bureau Federation and other commodity interests groups whom expressed in December support for President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba. 

The U.S. already exports large quantities of agricultural goods to Cuba under humanitarian exceptions under the U.S. embargo. According to a Congressional Research Service report on Cuba, the United States regained its position as Cuba’s largest supplier of agricultural goods from Brazil in 2012.

The leading agricultural exports to Cuba in recent years have been poultry, soybean oilcake, corn and soybeans

Approved U.S. food exports to Cuba authorized for the fiscal year of 2013 reached US$349 million, which marks a decline from their 10-year peak of US$710 million in 2008, according to data from the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

The recent backing from U.S. agricultural businesses has caused tension between U.S. lawmakers whom oppose the new policy toward Cuba. Obama announced Dec. 17 that his government would aim to allow U.S. companies to sell more agriculture products to the country.

However, U.S. lawmakers have vowed to block any rapprochement with Cuba.

Cuba-U.S. Diplomatic Relations

Deputy Secretary of State for Latin America Roberta Jacobson will travel to Havana Jan. 21 to meet with Cuban officials to discuss the re-establishment of diplomatic relations.

The meeting will focus on the “normalization of diplomatic relations, visas and embassies,” the State Department reported Friday.