House Agriculture Committee Chairman, Mike Conaway, along with Representatives Rick Crawford (R-AR) and Ted Poe (R-TX) introduced legislation that would open agricultural trade and financing between the United States and Cuba.
The bill, H.R. 3687, or the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, repeals financing restrictions, allowing U.S. banks to offer credit in Cuba in connection with exports of U.S. agricultural goods; eliminates restrictions on key federal funding used in agricultural export promotion
s (i.e., MAP, FMD, GSM-102, and Federal Checkoff funds) for Cuba; and enables investment in Cuban agribusinesses not affiliated with the Cuban government (i.e., Alimport).
This action follows closely on the heels of a trip to Cuba by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and a group of nearly 40 Arkansans including representatives of Riceland Foods. Governor Hutchinson returned to Arkansas motivated to ask for changes, saying, "Congress needs to equalize the field of operations for our businesses by allowing them to negotiate cash, credit, whatever they feel comfortable with and the level of risk they wish to take. Right now, we can't even negotiate a credit sale, and that's not customary in the market."
"I'm excited to see my Congressman [Representative Crawford] introduce a bill that would positively affect so many parts of the U.S. rice industry," said Arkansas rice farmer and USA Rice Chairman Dow Brantley. "Our Congressional District alone grows nearly half of the U.S.'s rice - so we would certainly stand to benefit from open trade with the Cubans - as would rice producers throughout the mid-South."
Brantley continued, "USA Rice has been working to remove the trade barriers for a long time, and after 55 years that the trade embargo has been in place, it's time for things to change. It's my hope that the rest of Congress will join the sponsors in supporting this legislation, which has the potential to seriously strengthen the agricultural economy."
Keith Gray, a Texas-based rice miller with Riviana Foods, said, "We have been looking for opportunities to sell rice to Cuba for some time and it's always been held up because of the financing issue. This bill would be a game-changer and I think it's the best option put forward so far to open up the Cuban market for our rice."
"As a long grain rice grower I have a limited market for my rice to be shipped," said Texas rice farmer and USA Rice Farmers Board Member Daniel Berglund. "Opening up an essentially new market this close to home would be a huge help with moving our production. Reducing our shipping miles allows Texas and all U.S.-grown rice for that matter to remain extremely competitive price-wise."
USA Rice endorses this legislation and continues to seek congressional support for all legislation that works towards normalized trade relations with Cuba.