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Agriculture and Food

The Agriculture Business Conference to Cuba was a win for U.S. agriculture

The panel speakers at the US Agriculture Coalition for Cuba conference. From left to right: Paul Johnson, Chair of the USACC, Cuba's President, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, and Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla.

Last week, the United States Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC) traveled to Cuba for an agricultural business conference. Participants included representatives of the wheat, rice, corn, dairy, dry beans, poultry, grains, beverage importing industries, and the Georgia Farm Bureau.

Cuban panelists updated us on the status of agriculture production, legal reforms affecting agriculture and foreign investment, and opportunities for U.S. exports of agricultural products. Following the panel discussion, participants split up into groups to meet their sector counterparts to deepen understanding of national production and international commercial trade norms. These meetings provided direct interaction with Cuban specialists and purchasers of U.S. agricultural products.

The conference participants were then invited to the Palacio de la Revolution to meet Cuba’s President, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez. After remarks and discussion, we had a reception where the President and the ministers of foreign affairs, foreign trade and investment, economy and planning, and agriculture talked with us informally about agriculture, the economy and politics.

The messages exchanged were clear. For Cuba’s part, the President expressed the will to expand exchanges with the U.S. and to normalize trade relations. He acknowledged that the U.S. agriculture sector is at the forefront of understanding and fostering relations between both countries. He also highlighted the advantages of the U.S. agriculture market given its proximity, quality and price of goods, and as an option in the event of natural disasters to help resupply food needs. Cuba’s minister of foreign trade and investment also stated that Cuba expects to increase purchases this year of U.S. agriculture exports to between $400 and $500 million, which is a significant increase from last year’s exports of $300 million. He wants improved trade with the United States but noted that U.S. sanctions, including the ban on private trade credit, pose obstacles.

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USACC members underscored that cultural, logistical, family, and agricultural links can be a basis for improving relations. They expressed the desire to not only expand exports but also to work with Cuban farmers to increase local production and to support two-way trade.

Participants also discussed the urgent need to promote increased scientific exchanges between plant and animal health specialists. Farmers know too well that pests and diseases do not know borders or hold political preferences. Their impacts can be devastating to everyone, and open communication between the USDA and the Ministry of Agriculture is essential to preventing unnecessary loss.

Participants also had time to leave the city and get their boots muddied at two private agricultural cooperatives and to see a small tomato canning industry. The farm exchanges gave members a chance to learn how Cuban producers farm, what they produce, how they sell their products, and what their needs are. Back in Havana, they visited food markets to understand how food is purchased by Cuban families, whether at farmers’ markets, ration stores, or hard currency stores.

The old centralized economy, COVID, the U.S. embargo, and now the war in the Ukraine have overwhelmed the Cuban economy. In response, Cuba has made a significant new opening to expand its private sector to generate production, jobs, and exports. Small private enterprises provide an incredible opportunity for the talent of Cubans to shine while contributing to economic growth. Agricultural cooperatives are not new in Cuba, but changes permitting them to compete with state enterprises is a positive step. These internal changes that support the Cuban people and expand the entrepreneurial and private sectors of Cuba provide an opportunity for both the U.S. and Cuba to engage.

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The USACC agricultural delegation to Cuba was a tremendous success for agriculture, and it was an example of the kind of engagement that our government could embrace to address problems of immigration, food insecurity, plant and animal heath diseases, natural disaster preparedness, and protecting our shared natural resources. As one U.S. participant said during the conference, “as farmers we are accustomed to helping our neighbors, we see the Cuban people as our neighbors.”

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