Va. exceeds a quarter of Cuba’s total ag imports

Associate Editor

RICHMOND, Va. (March 1, 2016) — When Cuba is looking to the United States for agricultural or forestry products, Virginia, it appears, is one of the first places it looks.
The state led the nation in agriculture and forestry exports to the Caribbean island nation last year with nearly $42 million in receipts, a 67-percent increase over the previous year, beating Louisiana, Georgia, Florida and Alabama, according to state data.
Virginia exports, which are mostly soybeans and soybean meal, are more than a quarter of Cuba’s total agricultural imports from the United States, which totaled about $149 million last year.
This “announcement is a big win for Virginia’s agribusinesses and producers doing business with Cuba, which has led to more than $423 million in agricultural exports to the country over the last decade,” Virginia agricultural Secretary Todd Haymore said in a statement.
Limited sales of food and agricultural products have been legally exported to Cuba since Congress passed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000.
The door for even more trade opened in late 2014 when President Obama announced his intentions to defang a half-century-old trade embargo between the United States and Cuba and normalize relations.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe has heavily promoted his efforts to expand business in Cuba since his November 2013 election. He continues to lobby Congress to ease business and travel restrictions to the Communist nation.
Virginia’s exports to Cuba peaked at $66 million in 2011 but steadily declined thereafter due to Cuba’s slowing economy and various embargo-related export hurdles between the two countries — restrictions Haymore said he’d like to see eased or removed.
Cuba, which has a population of about 11 million, cannot buy agricultural goods in the United States unless it pays in cash, and it cannot do business with U.S. banks, so money transfers must go through third-party foreign banks, incurring additional fees.
Those hurdles lead to agricultural products that are priced artificially high and make them less competitive — particularly in a lagging economy — compared to products available in more Cuba-friendly nations such as Brazil or Argentina. Some Virginian apple exporters have been frozen out of business with Cuba because the nation sought cheaper sources elsewhere in the world.
U.S. lawmakers have submitted a series of bills designed to ease trade and travel restrictions with Cuba, but they face strong opposition in Congress. Some of that legislation is being pushed by U.S. farming interests.