Heitkamp calls for easing restrictions on ag exports to Cuba

WASHINGTON – Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. took to the Senate floor urging the Senate to pass her bipartisan bill that will make it easier for North Dakota producers to export agricultural products to Cuba.

In January, the Obama administration loosened export restrictions to allow companies to sell nonagricultural products to Cuba on credit. But export restrictions on agricultural products are still in place.

Heitkamp and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark. introduced their bipartisan bill in April 2015 to make it legal for U.S. exporters to finance agricultural exports into Cuba. The bill followed Heitkamp’s visit to Cuba in February 2014, during which she met with Cuban trade officials to discuss the bilateral economic benefits of expanding agricultural exports from North Dakota and the U.S. to Cuba.

“The agriculture economy is critical for my state, and crops we excel at growing – like black beans, peas, lentils and barley – are in high demand in Cuba. As we continue to open up relations with Cuba, it’s critical that our producers get access to this hungry market. That’s what my bipartisan bill with Senator Boozman would accomplish,” Heitkamp says. “Our current policies are unnecessarily tying the hands of North Dakota farmers, preventing them from competing with Canada and Southeast Asia in a country that is just 90 miles from our shores. North Dakota farmers have told me time and time again that Cuba is a vital market, and they need access to this natural market for North Dakota crops.”

In September 2015, Heitakmp participated in a rare meeting between U.S. lawmakers and Cuban President Raul Castro. At that meeting she urged Cuba to purchase more U.S. agricultural exports, which would help North Dakota farmers who rely on exports for their bottom line. Heitkamp was invited to the meeting – one of Castro’s first with American lawmakers since the U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic ties – because of her efforts to expand exports of U.S. agricultural commodities to Cuba, a country with high demand for North Dakota crops like dry beans, peas, and lentils.

After Heitkamp introduced the Agricultural Export Expansion Act with Boozman in April 2015, the bill passed as an amendment in the Senate Appropriations Committee in July.

For more than a year, Heitkamp has pushed to improve agricultural export opportunities to Cuba and make it easier for farmers to sell their crops – particularly North Dakota pulse crops – to this high-demand market. The biggest barrier that agricultural exporters in North Dakota and throughout the United States have faced when trying to export to Cuba is a legal prohibition on providing credit for exports to Cuba. Heitkamp’s bipartisan legislation would modify current law, lift the ban on private banks and companies offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba, and help level the playing field for exporters in North Dakota and across the country.

Currently, all U.S. exports to Cuba require cash up front, while other nations around the world offer credit to Cuban importers, essentially preventing farmers and ranchers from being able to ship their products to Cuba.

North Dakota is the 9th largest agriculture exporting state in the country, with an estimated $4.1 billion in commodities sold each year in foreign markets. Almost a quarter of North Dakota workers are farmers or ranchers, or are employed in farm-related jobs. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, North Dakota agricultural exports support about 27,000 jobs. In December, Heitkamp highlighted how federal action that was taken would help support agricultural exports for North Dakota farmers. Additionally, she noted how the change in U.S.-Cuba policy would also support North Dakota’s economy and provide at least some relief to low American commodity prices by opening new markets.

By Agweek Wire Report, AGWEEK

February 5, 2016

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