A proposed bill to open Cuba to farm exports from the United States cleared the House Agricultural Committee Thursday with Kansas Rep. Jerry Moran in full support.
Rep. Moran has been fighting for years to modify the trade embargo against Cuba for a number of sound reasons.
His statement on the committee vote lists some of them:
“Today’s vote is a step in the right direction and a victory for America’s farmers and ranchers. Cuba must import nearly 85 percent of its food and current U.S. trade policies hurt American farmers and ranchers by making it more expensive for Cuba to purchase U.S. agriculture products. Instead of buying U.S. commodities, current policy encourages Cuba to buy its food from countries such as Vietnam and China. I have long fought for common sense changes to our trade policy with Cuba in order to open up markets only 90 miles away. This legislation will standardize our trade policies, increase export sales and create thousands of American jobs without increasing the deficit,” said Moran.
Moran’s crusade to sell more Kansas farm products to Cuba should earn him votes for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in the August primary.
He is in good company in the effort. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Farmers Union are among nearly 150 U.S. organizations supporting the bill.
The U.S. International Trade Commission estimated in 2001 that the Cuba embargo costs American exporters as much as $1.2 billion in lost sales every year.
Jerry McReynolds, president of the wheat growers association and a Kansan, testified before the House ag committee earlier this year on the proposed legislation.
“We are long overdue to make commonsense changes to our policy concerning Cuba, which has done nothing but hamstring agriculture’s competitiveness in this neighboring market and hurt our agricultural economy,” he said.
A U.S. Chamber of Commerce spokesman quoted by Rep. Moran added that “additional commercial and people-to-people contacts will help advance democracy and the rule of law in Cuba.”
WHEN THE conservative U.S. chamber argues in favor of taking down this Cold War remnant, Congress and the administration should listen. Kansas and the other ag states have economic reasons to remove the trade barriers. The country as a whole should want normal relations with Cuba because it’s also the right thing to do.
Cuba is an impoverished nation with a population of about 11,400,000. Once a major producer of sugar, its farming sector fell victim to a failed nationalization program that removed the incentive to farm. The current regime is trying to bring the fields back to life but, as Rep. Moran observes, the fertile island produces only 15 percent of the food its people need to survive.
Cuba ceased to be a threat to the U.S. — or any other nation — when the Soviet Union collapsed and could no longer support the Castro regime. It does maintain an army far larger than it needs, but only to provide jobs for tens of thousands who would otherwise be unemployed and create regime-threatening political unrest.
Ending the embargo and normalizing trade and travel would help Cuba expand its tourist industry and, as the Chamber spokesman observed, expose the Cuban people to more and more men, women and children who obviously live fuller, richer, freer lives than Cubans enjoy. Cuba would change itself over time as a consequence.
Restoring normal trade, travel, cultural and diplomatic relations with Cuba — treating Cuba as the neighbor that it is — would give the U.S. economy a welcome boost, help U.S. relations with the nations of the Caribbean, Central and South America and give 11.4 million Cubans hope for a much brighter future.
It’s a win-win prospect Congress should embrace.
— Emerson Lynn, jr.