Several Arkansas rice producers are part of a delegation in Havana, Cuba
tonight, assessing that country as a future market for U.S. rice.
Triple digit heat shines down on the fields of the Arkansas Delta. It's
a condition that rice thrives under. And Arkansas rice growers are
hoping for favorable conditions to help their business thrive.
"They typically purchase around 600,000 metric tons on a mill basis.
That's a lot of rice," says Chuck Wilson, who is with the USA Rice
Several of their merchant members are in Havana, Cuba talking with
Cuba's import agency and the Ministries of Foreign Trade, and
Agriculture. The hope is to convince Cuba to buy American rice.
Wilson says, "The Cuban people really like the U.S. rice. They like the
quality. They like the taste. They like the cleanliness of it,
everything that we have to offer, they like. It's just the situation,
the politics and the economics that's causing a difficulty in that."
Arkansas is America's largest producer of rice, harvesting more than 40
percent of the annual crop. Before the revolution, Cuba was America's
largest consumer of rice. And Arkansas growers would like to see that
Cuba buys most of their rice from Vietnam. U.S. trade restrictions put
in place more than 50 years ago make it difficult for them to buy U.S.
products. The rice federation would like to see those old restrictions
Wilson explains, "If they buy it from the U.S. they would have to go
through a bank in a third country. They can't even use U.S. banks. So
there's a lot of little factors there that we place restrictions on them
that we do not other countries that really is impacting our ability to
trade with them."
Motors struggle in the summer heat to keep the rice fields irrigated and
alive. And if the delegation is successful, Arkansas rice could soon
flow into a country once considered so far away -- even though it's only
90 miles from our coast.
H.R. 4645, a bill before the U.S. House of Representatives would
eliminate the need for Cuba to use third country banks and advance cash
payments for U.S. agricultural products -- and lift travel restriction
for U.S. citizens to that country.