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US Farmers Welcome Diplomatic Relations with Cuba

Now that the United States and Cuba have re-established relations, American farmers are exploring ways to sell their crops to the island nation.

Wendell Shauman operates a farm in the U.S. state of Illinois. Corn and soybeans from his farm soon may be sold in Cuba.

Mr. Shauman spoke to VOA as he moved some of his corn crop from a grain storage building to a truck. The Illinois farmer hopes more of his crops will be going to Cuba. He says the re-establishment of relations is good for American agriculture. He says American farmers should be successful in Cuba because the island is close to the United States, making transportation costs low. He also says U.S. farmers are producing the crops Cubans need.

Cuba now imports about 80 percent of its food, paying about $2 billion a year. Some of that food comes from the United States. American farmers have been selling crops to Cuba since 2000, when trade restrictions were eased. Last year, they sold about 25,000 tons of chicken to Cuba.

But the U.S. share of the Cuban market has dropped recently because of increased competition from other countries. In those areas, farmers are not legally barred from extending credit to Cuba.

That is why Wendell Shaumann wants the U.S. to lift its ban on trade with Cuba, and soon. He says U.S. farmers are facing competition in Cuba from South American countries, Ukraine and even India. He says it makes sense to sell crops in a market that is so close to the United States.

But not everyone wants to increase trade with Cuba. Roger Noriega is a former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States. He says the possible economic gains from freer trade with Cuba are not as great as some believe. Mr. Noriega says companies want to do business with trustworthy people. In his words, “you can’t trust a dictatorship.”

Much of the corn and soybeans that Mr. Shauman grows are taken by truck to a grain processing center next to the Mississippi River. The crops are then placed on river barges, which bring the crops to New Orleans, Louisiana. From there, they are shipped around the world.

Gary LaGrange is the president of the Port of New Orleans. He says an end to the trade ban with Cuba would increase business at the port and create more jobs there, especially in transportation. He says there would be an increase in the number of ships sailing between Cuba and New Orleans.

Mr. LaGrange says there has already been an increase in business at the port because of a law signed in 2000. It is called the Trade Sanction Reform and Export Enhancement Act. The measure permitted sales of some agricultural products, medicines and medical devices in Cuba.

Mr. LaGrange notes that as a result of that law, the port has been shipping goods to Cuba. He believes the cancellation of the trade sanctions will result in an increase in business of 10 to 15 percent. He says exports from the U.S. to Cuba will increase, but so will imports to the U.S. from Cuba. He adds that before the sanctions were put in place, Cuba’s largest trading partner was the port of New Orleans.

Mr. Noriega, the former OAS ambassador, says he opposes the end of the sanctions on Cuba for both moral and economic reasons. He says he does not believe the United States should trade with Cuba because the island continues operating under a communist dictatorship. He says the Cuban government will use profits from trade to continue to suppress its people. He says that is not something Western nations should support.

But farmer Wendell Shauman says old Cold War tensions between the East and West have ended. He says U.S. farmers just want to sell their crops to Cuba. He says farmers should let political leaders worry about the politics.

Agriculture experts say an end to the sanctions could increase U.S. exports to Cuba by as much as 200 percent within the next four years.

I’m Bob Doughty.

VOA’s Kane Farabaugh and Mil Arcega reported this story. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

barge – n. a boat that is used to carry goods on rivers and in canals

sanctions – n. actions taken to try to force a country to obey international law by limiting trade with that country or by not permitting economic aid; trade restrictions or actions

Will farmers in your country seek to sell their crops in Cuba now that the US has reestablished diplomatic relations with the island nation and will soon cancel trade restrictions on the Communist country? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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