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Bill should help exports to Cuba

Agriculture trade between the United States and Cuba is expected to increase under a provision inserted into the massive appropriations bill for fiscal year 2010.

The provision — Section 619 of H.R. 3288, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010 — essentially explains how Congress intends the U.S. Treasury Department to interpret a key phrase in legislation passed earlier this year.

Under the leadership of Montana Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, senators said the department’s interpretation of the phrase “payment of cash in advance” was incorrect and would, contrary to their intent, stymie trade.

“For the second year in a row, Congress has been very explicit in expressing its intentions to the Obama administration about U.S. agricultural trade with Cuba,” said Betsy Ward, USA Rice Federation president and CEO. “Though these directives have been single-year policies, we strongly support them for the ongoing momentum they provide to pass comprehensive U.S.-Cuba trade-and-travel legislation.”

As a measure of what’s at stake, USA Rice says Cuba is potentially a 400,000 to 600,000 ton-per-year market for U.S. rice.

With the blessing of the Obama administration and aimed at easing travel and trade with Cuba, Congress placed three items in the fiscal 2009 omnibus bill. Several of the items had to do with travel to Cuba and one concerned agriculture-related sales.

(For more, see Easing Cuban trade and travel.)

The Obama administration implemented the travel provisions in late summer.

The agriculture trade item wasn’t accepted as easily with the Treasury Department’s vow to continue rules put in by the Bush administration in 2005, requiring Cuba to pay for U.S. agricultural commodities prior to shipment through onerous, third-party transactions. With the newly inserted provision, Cuba will be able to wire payments directly to the United States while commodities are being shipped.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill Dec. 18.

Asked if the earlier objections by some Cuban-American politicians to weakening the trade embargo had eased, one rice industry insider says, “I don’t know they’ve quieted down. They haven’t changed their minds, at all. But this is being done (even though) the opposition is still there.”

Looking at the possibility of a massive increase in agricultural exports to Cuba, “hopefully there won’t be any more shadow dancing or tightrope walking in terms of how Treasury implements this language,” says the insider.

For more on Cuba/U.S. trade, see http://deltafarmpress.com/searchresults/?ord=d&terms=Cuba+trade.

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com

TAGS: Rice
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