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Thaw in U.S./Cuba relations leading to major new agriculture market?

Thaw in U.S./Cuba relations leading to major new agriculture market?
Pushback against new Cuba policy begins. Vilsack responds. Advocates release statements.

Reactions continue to roll in following the Wednesday morning White House announcement that the United States would seek to normalize relations with Cuba. President Obama also called on Congress to lift the Cuba trade embargo that has been in place for five decades.

The inevitable pushback from some lawmakers centers on distaste at striking a deal with the despotic, Communist Cuban government. However, Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, who sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he’s been for lifting the trade embargo for many years. Boozman, pointing out the unsavory governments the United States already has deep ties to including China and Saudi Arabia, called for consistency.

"Throughout history, agriculture has served as a bridge to foster cooperation, understanding and the exchange of ideas among people,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “I have no doubt that agriculture will continue to play that powerful role as we expand our relationship with the Cuban people in the coming years.”

The effort means expanded opportunities “for U.S. farmers and ranchers to do business in Cuba,” continued Vilsack. “It removes technical barriers between U.S. and Cuban companies and creates a more efficient, less burdensome opportunity for Cuba to buy U.S. agricultural products. It also makes those products far more price competitive, which will expand choices for Cuban shoppers at the grocery store and create a new customer base for America's farmers and ranchers."


Others releasing statements include:

  • The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and U.S. Wheat Associates (USW).

“We anticipate that these re-established trade relations will help open a market for U.S. wheat products in Cuba. Cuba, which does not grow wheat commercially, is the largest wheat market in the Caribbean, purchasing almost all of its 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.”

Alan Tracy, USW President: “The U.S. wheat industry applauds these actions, which take concrete steps away from a policy approach towards Cuba that has accomplished little. If Cuba resumes purchases of U.S. wheat, we believe our market share there could grow from its current level of zero to around 80-90 percent, as it is in other Caribbean nations.” 

  • Wade Cowan, president of the American Soybean Association (ASA).

“Whether it’s the burgeoning Cuban demand for pork, poultry and dairy or that nation’s expanded demand for cooking oils, American soybeans have a significant market opening just off our own shores.

“More important in today’s announcement, however, are the implications for the Cuban people. While we have been able to sell our products in the country for decades, our Cuban customers were unable to secure the same financing and credit opportunities as other trade partners. Conversely, the restrictions on financing made it difficult for our products to compete in that marketplace. The easing of these restrictions will make it easier for American soy to gain a foothold in the market, but more importantly, it will enable the Cuban people to purchase the products that they need and want as their market develops.”

  • The National Corn Growers Association.

"Although the United States has allowed agricultural exports to Cuba since 2001, financing restrictions and other hurdles have limited the ability of U.S. agriculture to compete with other nations. U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba were valued at nearly $350 million in 2013, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.”

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