Saturday, July 24, 2010

Some farmers and ranchers in Texas hope Congress eventually affirms an agribusiness-friendly measure easing restrictions with Havana

Advocates for Cuba trade

Some farmers and ranchers in Texas hope Congress eventually affirms an
agribusiness-friendly measure easing restrictions with Havana
By JENALIA MORENO Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle
July 24, 2010, 12:35AM
Michael Paulsen : Chronicle

Value of exports to Cuba last year:
Texas: $20.6 million
U.S.:$528 million

Source: Center for North American Studies, Texas A&M

Waller County rancher Tom Paben has never sold beef to Cuba, largely
because of a half-century-old trade and travel embargo.

But Paben is optimistic he will, now that Congress is considering a bill
that would allow U.S. tourists to travel to the island nation and would
lift restrictions on how Cubans can pay for American agricultural goods.

"If Cuba opened up to tourists, they would use higher cuts of chicken
and beef," said Paben, a fifth-generation rancher and farmer. "Our
country has a rare opportunity over the course of the next few days to
begin the process of undoing a complete failure in U.S. foreign policy."

The embargo, a product of the Cold War, was enacted in 1962, a few years
after Fidel Castro led the revolution that established a communist
government in Cuba.

A bill allowing Americans to travel to Cuba and allowing Cuba to pay
U.S. companies directly for goods was approved recently by the House
Agriculture Committee and faces the Foreign Affairs Committee before it
goes before the full House.

On Friday, farmers and business leaders with the Texas Farm Bureau urged
Congress to pass the bill.

"This is a step forward in free trade with Cuba," Jeff Moseley, Greater
Houston Partnership CEO and president, said during a downtown news
conference. In 2006, the partnership passed a resolution supporting
trade with Cuba.

A decade ago, the U.S. began allowing agriculture exports to Cuba but
required that all financial transactions pass through a third country.

"This stifles our ability to transact business," said Port of Houston
Authority CEO Alec Dreyer.

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, said he's open to loosening some
restrictions on Cuba but still has concerns about its labor violations
and support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"Specifically, I support normal financing for food and medicine sales to
Cuba. I've also been willing to consider more liberalized travel rules
to facilitate these particular transactions," he recently told a House
committee hearing on Cuba.

Last year, U.S. exports to Cuba totaled $528 million. The U.S. could
export $365 million more annually if the travel and financial
restrictions ended, according to a study by the Center for North
American Studies at Texas A&M University.

Texas exported $20.6 million in agricultural goods last year and could
increase annual exports by $18.4 million under the looser restrictions,
the study said.

Texas farmers have been pushing for Congress to ease restrictions on
trade with Cuba for years, but this is the first time legislation has
gotten out of a legislative committee, said Stephen Pringle, legislative
director for the Texas Farm Bureau.

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