Posted March 18, 2015
Kansas Wheat Commissioner Doug Keesling and USW Assistant Director of Policy Ben Conner represented the U.S. wheat industry on a "learning journey" to Cuba on March 1-4.
"We went down there on a learning quest journey to try to figure out what their needs were and to try to figure out what are the principle things that, if we can get this trade embargo lifted, which we hope we do, what can we gain from it," said Keesling. "And wheat came out a lot in our discussions."
"Wheat was one of the number one things that came up as a topic that they needed help with in Cuba, from the farmers, the collective farm owners, clear up to ministers of trade, and within the government, so it went from all levels," Keesling said.
“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.
The 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.
The trip was hosted by U.S. Ag Coalition for Cuba, whose purpose is to re-establish Cuba as a market for U.S. food and agriculture exports and address liberalizing trade between the United States and Cuba. The coalition will work to end the embargo and allow for open trade and investment.
Keesling says, that while more learning is necessary, the trip was an important first step.
"We would be the logistic choice to export to Cuba, and they're very excited about it," Keesling said.