Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Agricultural exports to Cuba would help compensate those whose properties were seized

Agricultural exports to Cuba would help compensate those whose
properties were seized

The congressional battle between lawmakers from farming states and Cuban
American colleagues on funding food exports to Cuba could be coming to
an end thanks to an "elegant" solution that is part of proposed
legislation: a 2 percent user fee on agricultural products sold to the
island that would be used to compensate those who have certified claims
of properties confiscated by the Cuban government.

"We know there are a significant number of Cuban Americans who are
aggrieved because they had their properties thieved years ago in the
revolution," said Arkansas Rep. Rick Crawford, the bill's sponsor. "We
have come out with a vehicle by which they actually receive
compensation, which is a key component of the legislation.

"Every transaction will have a two percent excise fee that would be
collected and administered to certified claimants through the Treasury
Department," he said.

"The 2% user fee functions like an excise tax on the total sale, and it
is paid by the seller of the agricultural product," added a staffer from
Crawford's office.

More than 6,000 certified claims from U.S. companies and citizens are
currently worth about $8 billion. However, thousands of Cuban-American
claims are not certified.

The bill, which has not yet been submitted, proposes to remove
restrictions on the financing of exports of food, dairy products and
other agricultural products to Cuba. Under current policy, it is legal
to export these products but they can only be paid in cash and it is not
possible to offer credit to Havana. The bill, which would only authorize
private credit, would be supported by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny
Perdue, according to his testimony at a hearing before the House
Committee on Agriculture on May 17.

The Arkansas representative said he has been working closely with Cuban
American members of Congress on the proposed legislation.

"We are trying to keep their perspective in mind and trying to be as
respectful to their sensibilities as possible and do something that is
meaningful not only for the American farmers but also to Cuban
Americans, too, who are obviusly personally involved in this issue,"
Crawford said. "We think we have arrived at a very elegant solution for
both problems.

"To my knowledge this approach has never been attempted," he added. "Our
friends in Florida will be interested in this because it does provide a
significant policy change," toward Cuba.

However, while Florida Republican Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart is at the
negotiating table, on his end "there is no deal yet," a spokeswoman for
his office told el Nuevo Herald. Diaz-Balart did not respond to a
request for further comment on the subject.

The bill could be an advance of the position that the Trump
administration ultimately adopts after the Cuba policy review currently
underway is completed in the coming weeks. Crawford said he is also
working in coordination with the White House and that the bill will come
to light as part of a package of measures that will come following the
conclusion of the review.

Last July, Crawford withdrew an amendment to lift the restrictions on
financing agricultural exports to Cuba from the Financial Services and
General Government Appropriations bill. Instead of forcing the vote, he
got a commitment that the House Committee on Agriculture will give floor
time to a bill with similar language -- and that Cuban American
representatives, especially Díaz-Balart, would sit down and negotiate.

In January, Crawford introduced the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, with
39 co-sponsors. But the bill does not include the 2 percent fee,
although it does prohibit investments in agriculture if a Cuban company
is tied to the government, the island's armed forces or the Ministry of
the Interior.

The agricultural sector has been strongly lobbying Congress to remove
barriers to access to the Cuban market. The island imports almost 80
percent of the food it consumes and it is seen as a modest but desirable
market for U.S. producers.

However, the idea that some money paid for food import would go to go to
U.S. companies and citizens whose properties were confiscated by the
Castro regime probably would not be to the liking of Havana.

Following the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, the
administration of former President Barack Obama and the government of
Raúl Castro sat down to discuss the thorny issue of claims, although
they did not make much progress.

But Crawford said he is not trying "to write this bill to satisfy the
Cuban regime."

Experts have also questioned whether the Cuban government would be
inclined to accept American credit when it already receives "soft"
credits from allied countries like Vietnam, from which Cuba buys rice.

Crawford said U.S. companies offer better quality and more accessible
products. If the bill becomes law, he added, U.S. companies "will have
to search on their own" ways to offer credit to Cuba.

"That's the beauty of the free market," he said. "What we are trying to
do is level the playing field and allow access to the market."

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

Source: Proposed bill would levy 2 percent fee on agricultural exports
to Cuba | Miami Herald -

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