Senator Continues to Push Bipartisan Bill to Allow Private Financing of U.S. Ag Exports to Cuba
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today released the following statement after the president announced he would be reversing some of the advances made in U.S.-Cuba policy during the previous administration.
“This administration’s actions roll back some of the progress our country has made in opening up Cuba to trade. After a 50-year embargo that did little to change Cuba, it’s time for a new approach – an approach that can benefit North Dakota farmers, while also bringing change to Cuba,” said Heitkamp. “North Dakota farmers look to Cuba as a hungry market for crops like beans, peas, and lentils—but right now, we can’t access that market and are losing out to China, Brazil, and Canada. That’s why I’ll continue pushing my bipartisan bill to support farmers by allowing them to privately finance agricultural exports to a promising market just 90 miles from U.S. shores.”
Earlier this week, Heitkamp urged the president not to leave American farmers and rural communities behind as he considered changing U.S.-Cuba policy. Heitkamp reinforced to the president that Cuba could become an important market for North Dakota growers of black beans, peas, and lentils—and that reversing course on Cuba policy could further restrict access farmers and ranchers in rural America have to the promising market.
Heitkamp has long pushed to expand producers’ access to Cuba. Earlier this year, she reintroduced her bipartisan bill to support farmers and American jobs by lifting restrictions on private financing for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba—the biggest barrier North Dakota farmers face in accessing Cuba. Heitkamp and Republican Senator John Boozman of Arkansas first introduced the bill to lift the ban on private banks and companies offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba in April 2015. U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue endorsed the bill at his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing.
North Dakota is the 9th largest agriculture exporting state in the U.S., with about $4.1 billion in commodities sold abroad each year. Almost a quarter of North Dakota workers are farmers or ranchers, or work in farm-related jobs—and according to USDA, North Dakota agricultural exports support about 27,000 jobs, reinforcing the importance of expanding exports.
In January 2016, the previous administration loosened export restrictions to allow companies to sell non-agricultural products to Cuba on credit. But legal restrictions on financing agricultural products are still in place, and in February 2016 Heitkamp took to the Senate floor to urge passage of her bill to ease burdens on those seeking to export agricultural products.
Currently, all U.S. exports to Cuba require cash up front, while other nations around the world offer credit to Cuban importers, in effect preventing farmers and ranchers from being able to ship their products to Cuba. The change in U.S.-Cuba policy would provide at least some relief from low American commodity prices by opening new markets.
Heitkamp’s work to ease export restrictions on U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba is the reason the White House invited her on its historic trip to Cuba last year—the first presidential visit in nearly 90 years. During the three-day trip, Heitkamp met with top U.S. and Cuban leaders—including then-USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Cuban counterparts—to discuss opening agricultural trade. Her focus was on pushing for expanded North Dakota exports to Cuba.
Over the course of the trip, USDA announced it had agreed to Heitkamp’s request to allow federal checkoff programs to spend producer-generated funds to promote U.S. agricultural products in Cuba. USDA also signed a Memorandum of Understanding to further normalize ties with Cuba in agriculture. This trip was Heitkamp’s second visit to Cuba as a U.S. Senator, following her first visit in February 2014.
www.heitkamp.senate.gov, June 16, 2017