Waco-based Texas Farm Bureau pushing for free trade with Cuba
Partial list of members of the Engage Cuba Texas State Council
Tony Bennett, president and CEO, Texas Association of Manufacturers
Ric Bonnell, director of Global Health, Dell Children's Medical Center
Theldon R. Branch III, commissioner of the Port of Houston Authority
J. Allen Carnes, farmer with Carnes Farms Inc.
Erika de la Garza, program director, Latin America Initiative, Rice
University's Baker Institute
Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business
Gerardo Interiano, head of external affairs, Southwest U.S., Google Inc.
Mustafa Tameez, advisory board chairman, South Asian Chamber of Commerce
Joe Outlaw, professor and extension economist, Department of
Agricultural Economics, Texas A&M University
Pat Younger, executive director, Gulf Ports Association of the Americas
Bill Cunningham, James L. Bayless Chair for Free Enterprise, University
Dick Ottis, Texas Rice Belt Warehouse Inc.
Felix Chevalier, partner, The Chevalier Law Firm
Jennifer Ransom Rice, executive director, Texas Cultural Trust
Source: Engage Cuba Texas State Council
By MIKE COPELAND email@example.com
Leaders in business and agriculture, including the Waco-based Texas Farm
Bureau, have joined forces to create the Engage Cuba Texas State
Council, which will push to have travel and trade restrictions abolished
between the United States and the island country 90 miles from Florida.
The goal is to give farmers and manufacturers a multibillion-dollar
economic nudge by permitting the sale of products to Cuba.
"Texas is a leading economic driver for the U.S. economy, and opening up
trade with Cuba would provide tremendous opportunities for businesses
across the state. However, Texans are stuck on the sidelines as our
foreign competitors continue to take advantage of Cuba's growing
markets," Engage Cuba President James Williams said in a statement on
the council's creation last week.
It will include 43 people representing a cross section of advocacy
groups, industry and academia.
"We are very pleased to have a diverse list of dynamic and engaged
Texans willing to step up and call on Congress to lift the embargo that
is costing Texas jobs and preventing economic development for the Cuban
people," Williams said in the statement. "It's time to end 50 years of
failed isolationist policy toward Cuba."
Creation of the council comes in the wake of President Barack Obama's
trip to Cuba in March and meetings with President Raul Castro, which
represented the first official contact between the countries in more
than a half-century.
Obama announced in January the United States would be easing some
restrictions on commerce with Cuba and would allow the financing of
authorized exports to the country. The authority to formally lift the
trade embargo rests with Congress.
Caterpillar, the Illinois-based heavy equipment giant that has invested
tens of millions of dollars on manufacturing and warehouse facilities in
Greater Waco, already has signed a deal with a distributor, Rimco, of
Puerto Rico, to ship products to Cuba if lawmakers remove the trade
Cuba depends heavily on agricultural imports, which average $2 billion
annually, "and this number will continue to grow given the increasing
purchasing power of 11 million Cubans," said Jenifer Sarver, a
spokeswoman for the Engage Cuba Texas State Council.
"There is also an immediate need for infrastructure improvements to meet
the rising demand of foreign travelers. Texas is well-positioned to help
meet these and other needs on the island."
In other states
In addition to Texas, Engage Cuba has begun state councils in Georgia,
Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana.
Sarver, speaking by phone, said members of Congress look to their
constituents for cues on how to vote, and Engage Cuba aims to stir up
grass-roots support for normalizing relations and eliminating the
embargo that began with the rise to power of Fidel Castro and his
"This embargo costs the United States $1.2 billion annually," Sarver said.
Removing trade barriers "could mean big opportunities to agriculture in
Texas, which produces rice, soybeans, beans and corn, which the Cuban
people really need. As more people travel to Cuba, more food will be
needed for visitors," she said.
Cuba also could become the site of new manufacturing plants, Sarver
said. She is not suggesting U.S.-based companies would relocate there,
but that manufacturing facilities already serving U.S. clients from
elsewhere in the world may consider a move to Cuba, she said.
"Cuba is within the Eastern Time Zone, so call centers and that sort of
thing could more effectively operate there," Sarver said.
Pushing for legislation
The Engage Cuba coalition is pushing for passage of three pieces of
legislation, she said:
The Agricultural Export Expansion Act of 2015, which has six Texas
co-sponsors, would allow American farmers to offer financing to Cuban
importers to promote sales.
The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act would expand Cuba's already growing
markets and provide additional opportunities for U.S. agribusiness to
export to Cuba.
The Cuba Trade Act of 2015 would permit private-sector industries in the
United States to export goods and services to Cuba. Sarver said the bill
includes language to ensure U.S. taxpayers would not find themselves on
the hook if Cuban borrowers default on lines of credit extended by U.S.
banks and business.
"Agricultural exports contribute about 25 percent to the income of
farmers and ranchers, so you can see the importance of foreign trade
with other countries, including Cuba," said Glen Jones, director of
research and policy development for the Texas Farm Bureau and a member
of the new Engage Cuba Texas State Council.
Waco-based economist Ray Perryman said he has not prepared a study on
the economic impact of lifting the trade embargo against Cuba.
"Given the size of Cuba, it won't be huge, but potentially very
lucrative," Perryman said in an email. "Cuba has demands for petroleum
and petrochemical products, technology, machinery, food products,
professional services and other major Texas exports."
Source: Waco-based Texas Farm Bureau pushing for free trade with Cuba -
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