By Richard Keller, editor, AgProfessional

Agricultural commodity associations have supported loosening trade restrictions so that agricultural products can more easily be exported to Cuba, and many members of Congress from both parties have expressed supporting such legislation.

A bill to loosen travel and trade to Cuba was passed by the House Agriculture Committee, but the House Foreign Affairs Committee has to also pass the legislation before any chance of full House discussion.

There are dozens of House committees and subcommittees, and it would seem that no matter what type of legislation is ever proposed, it could require approval from more than one committee. Having worked in Washington, D.C., for a short time, I didn't realize this multiple committee approval requirement existed and still don't know the extent of this requirement.

It appears that any agricultural trade legislation has to be second guessed by another committee because it is related to "foreign affairs." The Cuban legislation does include a provision to allow travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens, which would allow trade arrangements to be completed more easily and without U.S. State Department travel approval. As I noted, every piece of legislation could have provisions that another committee would like to oversee for blocking or forwarding to the full House.

The Cold War trade limitations with Soviet bloc countries and China ended about two decades ago, but the communists of Cuba are still seen to be too much of a threat for the U.S. to normalize relations. I don't understand how not exporting to Cuba greatly hurts that country's economy or pressures the communist government to become a democracy. Most, if not all other countries in the world, export to Cuba. The list of those countries that do not trade with Cuba must be small because I found no such list, but Canada is noted as being the biggest trader with Cuba.

Food products are available to Cuba. It is a limitation of Cuba's borrowing power and the austerity policies of the government that keeps the selection of food in Cuban grocery stores quite limited.

U.S. is the world's most productive agricultural economy, and because of the close distance to Cuba, U.S. agricultural products could cost Cuba less than buying many ag products from other countries.

Congress has shown little need to enact restrictions against free enterprise agricultural trade with most dictatorships around the world. (North Korea is the most obvious exception at the moment.) Dictatorships and communist governments are interchangeable in how they rule. Cuba, which for decades has not shown an inclination to attack the U.S., is treated different than most other non-democracies of the world.

Congress needs to open private enterprise agricultural trade with Cuba.