US Rice Would Benefit From New Cuba Policy

John DavisAg Group, International, Rice

castrorice1The announcement that the U.S. is normalizing relations with Cuba is seen as good for American agriculture, with rice producers perhaps seeing the biggest boost. The USA Rice Federation welcomed the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the countries and sees the new approach to banking to being the key.

“The changes to banking are very important because they will significantly reduce red tape and costs associated with doing business with Cuba,” said Betsy Ward, president and CEO of the USA Rice Federation. “Since the mid-1990’s USA Rice has taken leadership among commodity groups in calling for an end to the economic and travel embargo on Cuba, so we’re encouraged by today’s announcement.”

Ward said her organization has long maintained that the “embargo was not on Cuba, as they could source rice and other products from around the world, but rather on the rice growers in the U.S., whose own government cut them out of one of the world’s top markets, just 90 miles from our shores.” She added that USA Rice is also a founding member of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC), a group dedicated to lifting the embargo.

“USA Rice was the first U.S. group of any kind to exhibit at the 2001 Cuba International Trade Fair, the first such participation in any Cuban trade fair in more than 40 years,” said USA Rice’s Marvin Lehrer. “This historic action, taken under extraordinary and difficult circumstances, was among those cited by the Government of Cuba as a motivation in making the first purchase of U.S. rice since 1961 and garnered worldwide media attention.”

Despite sales of American rice to Cuba hitting more than 175,000 metric tons in 2004, representing about 30 percent of Cuba’s import needs, there have been no sales since 2008 when the U.S. government restricted the definition of “cash in advance” and banking terms with Cuba. USA Rice Federation officials believe the banking changes will change that and possibly make Cuba, once again a major market for American rice.

“Today’s announcements are good news for the Cuban and American people,” said Dow Brantley, an Arkansas rice producer and chairman of the USA Rice Federation. “We’ll be looking for ways to tap into potential markets there to help people on both sides of the equation.”