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Ag coalition to lead trade trip to Cuba in March

Ag coalition to lead trade trip to Cuba in March

U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba will lead than 75 agribusiness, commodity, state government officials in visit to Cuba

The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba on Thursday announced it will lead more than 75 leaders from across the U.S. agriculture industry on a trade trip to Cuba. The visit will take place March 1-4, 2015.

Related: U.S. Policy Change on Cuba Seen as Positive for Ag, Trade

The trip – what the group calls a "learning journey" – will include meetings with Cuban business and government leaders, as well as interaction with Cuban farmers and agricultural cooperatives. The idea is to expand understanding of the Cuban agricultural economy.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Cargill Director of International Business Relations Devry Boughner Vorwerk shake hands during a news conference to launch the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, Jan. 8, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

"As we continue our call for Congress to end the embargo and normalize trade with Cuba, this is an appropriate time to visit Cuba and begin to strengthen business relationships," said Devry Boughner Vorwerk, Chair of USACC.

Vorwerk said the last several weeks have brought positive developments in advanced ag trade in Cuba, including the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act that would end the embargo.

With the official elimination of the embargo, ag groups said it could pave the way to curb financial restrictions that have limited U.S. ag's competitiveness and prevented normal business transactions.

"Our learning journey will ensure that key commodity groups and agribusiness leaders are well-positioned to facilitate a strong bilateral trading relationship when the embargo is lifted," Vorwerk said.

Related: Barriers Still Exist in Cuba for U.S. Meat Exports

USACC leaders also expect the trip to provide U.S. ag leaders to interact with Cuban ag leaders to develop relationships. Several of the members on the trip will be from Missouri, including the state's Governor, Jay Nixon, and agriculture director Richard Fordyce.

The USACC group was formally organized in early January, just weeks after President Obama announced he would pursue normal trade relations with Cuba following more than 50 years of limits on Cuban-American trade.

The group says an embargo lift, which must be authorized by Congress, would continue the "tremendous momentum" of U.S. agricultural exports and boost opportunity for U.S. and Cuban agriculture.

According to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Cuba is a $1.7 billion market, importing about 80% of its food. Just 90 miles from the United States' southern coast, the country is home to 11 million citizens.

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