U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar witnessed three Marines raise the U.S. flag over the embassy in Cuba in the summer of 2015, more than 50 years after three Marines had been ordered to lower it.
“It is a historic year for changing the equation of our relationship with Cuba,” Klobuchar says, “and Minnesota agriculture is clearly up front in my mind as I work on this policy.”
The Minnesota Democrat joins a growing list of legislators and agribusinesses who advocate for the end of the half-century-old trade embargo with Cuba. Klobuchar sponsored the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, which essentially would end the embargo.
Other Minnesota congressional members have taken action to support lifting the embargo. Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson is an original co-sponsor of the Freedom to Export bill while Republican Rep. Tom Emmer co-introduced the Cuba Trade Act of 2015. Klobuchar says lifting the embargo will offer new opportunities for American companies, help improve the quality of life in antiquated Cuba, and promote growth in jobs and exports.
Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson led an exploratory delegation to Cuba in December 2015 to discover potential trade relations if embargoes are eased in the future.
The delegation toured farms and markets in Cuba, learned about the processes of their food production and met with Cuban government officials and agricultural research leaders. The delegation included members of commodity promotion councils for soybean, poultry, wheat, dairy, corn, grain and feed, barley and processed foods.
“Several signs point to Cuba as a great potential export market for Minnesota farmers,” Frederickson says. “However, trade is a two-way street and we explored some of the future ways we can work together to create the biggest benefit to both of our agricultural economies.”
With current sales to Cuba on a cash basis only, Minnesota generally exports approximately $27 million worth of products annually to the island nation, says Su Ye, chief economist for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. With a lift of the U.S. trade embargo, Ye predicts the state’s exports to Cuba would reach $46 million, nearly double, within a few years.
“It’s definitely a benefit for us and our major commodities of soybeans, corn, feed, dairy, poultry and some processed food products,” Ye says.
While Cuba isn’t a huge market for Minnesota ag exports, it has potential and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture looks for every opportunity to bring more value to the state’s agricultural products.