The biggest barrier for producers who seek access to Cuba in Virginia and other states is a prohibition on providing private credit for those exports. In January 2016, the previous administration loosened export restrictions to allow companies to sell non-agricultural products to Cuba on credit, but statutory restrictions on financing agricultural products are still in place.
“The Virginia-Cuba trading partnership dates back to my time as governor, when we signed a million-dollar agricultural export deal with Cuba in 2002. Virginia is already one of Cuba’s biggest trading partners – with roughly $42 million in agricultural products per year – and this bill will help sell more Virginia soybeans, apples, poultry and pork to a country that imports about 80 percent of its food,” said Sen. Warner. “I also believe that increased exposure to American values like capitalism will help support the Cuban people as they pressure the Castro government for change.”
“Virginia farmers can sell to Cuba, but with one hand tied behind their backs. This commonsense legislation simply lets them compete. Removing arbitrary financing restrictions on exporting to Cuba’s $2 billion market could significantly increase Virginia agricultural exports, create jobs across the Commonwealth and provide the Cuban people with high-quality Virginia food,” said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba, a national advocacy organization. “We applaud Senator Warner for supporting Virginia agribusiness by making it easier to sell agricultural commodities to our island neighbor.”
Sen. Warner first cosponsored the bipartisan Agricultural Export Expansion Act in April 2015 to lift the ban on private banks and companies offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba, in order to help level the playing field for exporters across the country and support American jobs.
Currently, all U.S. exports to Cuba require cash up front, while other nations around the world offer credit to Cuban importers, in effect preventing farmers and ranchers from being able to ship their products to Cuba. The change in U.S.-Cuba policy would provide at least some relief from low American commodity prices by opening new markets.
In addition to Sen. Warner, U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Susan Collins (R-ME), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) joined in cosponsoring the bill.
Sen. Warner has pushed to improve agricultural export opportunities to Cuba and make it easier for farmers to sell their crops to this high-demand market. As Governor of Virginia in 2002, he sent a trade delegation to Cuba to sign a million-dollar agricultural export deal. In 2015, he joined a congressional delegation to Cuba, where he discussed with Cuban officials how to expand Virginia’s trading relationship with the country to make it easier for Virginia farmers to export more products like soybeans, apples, poultry and pork. The U.S. delegation also pressed Cuban officials to improve their human rights record.
Earlier this week, Sen. Warner joined Engage Cuba, a national coalition dedicated to lifting the Cuban embargo, in announcing his participation in the bipartisan Engage Cuba Virginia State Council. The council, which is comprised of prominent agriculture, business, port, education and government leaders from across the Commonwealth, will build statewide support for pro-engagement policies and Congressional action to lift the embargo.