Progress toward getting Kansas wheat back into Cuban market

U.S. Wheat Organizations Join Renewed Call for End to Cuban Embargo

March 12, 2015

Following is a joint statement from the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and U.S. Wheat Associates (USW).

Washington, D.C. — After participating in a “learning journey” to Cuba March 1 to 4, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) have joined members of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC) to renew a call for Congress to end the U.S. trade embargo.

USW Assistant Director of Policy Ben Conner and Kansas wheat farmer Doug Keesling represented the U.S. wheat industry on the trip.

“Our visit was an important first step toward a stronger relationship with Cuba,” Conner said. “We appreciated the opportunity to sit down and personally discuss these issues with representatives of the Cuban government and its people. We left with the distinct impression that lifting the embargo represents a unique chance to benefit people in both countries.”

“We have exported wheat to Cuba in the past and there should be no reason why we can’t do it now or in the future,” Keesling said. “It is the biggest wheat importer in the Caribbean — just a couple days away from our Gulf ports — and our own policies are keeping us from working together again. That’s not good for farmers or for the Cuban people.”

While ongoing travel and financing restrictions negatively affect the export potential for U.S. wheat farmers, competitors in the European Union and Canada freely sell wheat to Cuba. Even if the U.S. government loosens its trade policies, the larger political implications of an ongoing embargo create an unstable business environment for the United States and Cuba.

“Since Cuba can buy almost anything from anywhere except from the United States, the embargo is effectively an embargo against U.S. businesses and citizens, not of Cuba,” said USW President Alan Tracy.

“We will seize every opportunity to expand trade and Cuba is no exception,” said NAWG President Brett Blankenship. “Cuba represents untapped trade potential within our own hemisphere, and an end to the embargo would greatly benefit the U.S. export economy. Our wheat growers stand with America’s farm and business leaders to promote trade with Cuba today, tomorrow and well into the future.”

Last week’s visit included more than 95 U.S. agricultural leaders who met with officials of the Cuban government and learned about initiatives underway in Cuba to boost food production.

“As a result of this week’s learning journey, U.S. agricultural interests are well-positioned to facilitate a strong, two-way relationship when the embargo is lifted,” said USACC Chair Devry Boughner Vorwerk.

Listen to Doug Keesling's interview on KBUF Radio:

More than 75 agribusiness, commodity, state government leaders visit Cuba

U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba renews call for end to embargo 

February 19, 2015

The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC) announced February 19 it will lead more than 75 leaders from across the U.S. agriculture industry on a learning journey to Cuba. The visit will take place March 1-4, 2015. 

“As we continue our call for Congress to end the embargo and normalize trade with Cuba, this is an appropriate time to visit Cuba and begin to strengthen business relationships,” said Devry Boughner Vorwerk, Chair of USACC. “We have seen positive developments in recent weeks, including the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act that would end the embargo in an appropriate and expeditious way. Our learning journey will ensure that key commodity groups and agribusiness leaders are well-positioned to facilitate a strong bilateral trading relationship when the embargo is lifted.” 

The learning journey will include meetings with Cuban business and government leaders, as well as interaction with Cuban farmers and agricultural cooperatives to expand understanding of the Cuban agricultural economy. 

“The March learning journey will provide an opportunity for leaders in our agriculture sector to interact with key Cuban leaders, including farmers and agricultural cooperatives, in advance of normalized trade relations,” said Paul Johnson, Vice Chair of USACC. “Meanwhile our hope is for Congress to normalize trade relations with Cuba as quickly as possible.” 

USACC is comprised of agribusinesses, commodity groups, and others in agriculture who share a commitment to normalizing trade with Cuba and ending the current embargo. The coalition was formed in early 2014 to call for an end to the current embargo, which would continue the tremendous momentum of U.S. agricultural exports and boost opportunity for U.S. and Cuban agriculture. National Association of Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates are members of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba.

Kansas wheat farmer Doug Keesling, Chase, Kansas, will be traveling on the learning journey.

Senators move forward with bill to end Cuban embargo

February 13, 2015

Following is a joint statement from the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and U.S. Wheat Associates (USW).

On February 12, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced major legislation that would end the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba. The bill would end the restrictions on U.S. companies doing business in Cuba that have been in place since 1961. Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) co-sponsored the bill.

NAWG and USW are pleased to see bipartisan Congressional progress being made, and look toward a speedy and permanent end to the Cuban trade embargo. NAWG and USW are members of the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba, which also endorsed the legislation.

“It is refreshing to see our nation’s lawmakers reaching across the aisle to produce real and meaningful change. Increased trade with Cuba has great potential for U.S. wheat growers,” commented NAWG president Paul Penner.

Cuba’s 11 million people consume close to one million metric tons of wheat each year. It is the largest wheat market in the Caribbean, but it currently purchases almost all of that wheat from the European Union and Canada. Cuba could import at least 500,000 metric tons of wheat from the United States each year but has not purchased U.S. wheat since 2011. Under the current embargo, the United States can export agricultural products to Cuba through the use of third-party banking institutions, which makes facilitating trade burdensome and often more expensive.

“The farmer directors of NAWG and USW recently renewed a call to end the Cuban trade embargo,” said USW President Alan Tracy. “We support the bipartisan effort in the Senate that moves us one step closer to seeing U.S. wheat flowing to our Cuban neighbors again.”

U.S. wheat industry position

The U.S. wheat industry supports easing travel restrictions, permanently overturning the 2005 regulatory changes and increasing access to credit and USDA commercial loan programs. A level playing field with Canada and Europe is critical for U.S. wheat farmers to fully realize their export potential to Cuba. However, the larger political implications of the embargo and its negative impact on the business environment between the U.S. and Cuba will likely preclude effective competition by U.S. wheat exporters even if these other changes are implemented. Thus, U.S. wheat farmers support ending the embargo entirely.