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Wheat Scoop: Can trade with Cuba be far behind?


Action taken by President Barack Obama recently could mean that normalized trade relations with Cuba could resume within a few years.

The President lifted all restrictions on family visits and remittances for Cuban/Americans and directed the United States government to take steps that will facilitate greater contact between separated family members in the United States and Cuba, and also increase the flow of information and humanitarian resources directly to the Cuban people. The President also called on the Cuban government to reduce the charges it levies on cash remittances sent to the island.

According to Rebecca Bratter, director of policy at the U.S. Wheat Associates, the President has directed the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Commerce to take the needed steps to:

--Lift all restrictions on transactions related to the travel of family members to Cuba.

--Remove restrictions on remittances to family members in Cuba.

--Authorize U.S. telecommunications network providers to enter into agreements to establish fiber-optic cable and satellite telecommunications facilities linking the United States and Cuba.

--License U.S. telecommunications service providers to enter into roaming service agreements with Cuba's telecommunications service providers.

--License U.S. satellite radio and satellite television service providers to engage in transactions necessary to provide services to customers in Cuba.

--License persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to activate and pay U.S. and third-country service providers for telecommunications, satellite radio and satellite television services provided to individuals in Cuba.

--Authorize the donation of certain consumer telecommunication devices without a license.

--Add certain humanitarian items to the list of items eligible for export through licensing exceptions.

These actions leave intact the measures that restrict the free flow of trade between the US and Cuba as well as additional sales of US wheat, Bratter points out. However, U.S. Wheat Associates remains optimistic that the effort will lead to full normalization in the near future, including a full repeal of the travel ban for all US and Cuban citizens and easing of cash before shipment payment restrictions.

The Obama administration could take further steps to ease the U.S. policy towards Cuba, but the President acknowledges that policy shift takes time and would require cooperation from the Cuban government on issues such as political prisoners and a move towards democracy.

Bratter says, "While the new regulations easing travel and remittances for Cuban Americans are a good first step, lifting the embargo is a long-term prospect. In a positive sign towards progress and a reversal of previous rhetoric, Cuban President Raul Castro said he is willing to discuss all topics with the Obama administration."

Cubans consume almost 24 million bushels of wheat per year, and the island country has no domestic wheat production. The U.S. already exports some 10 million bushels of wheat to Cuba, but the European Union is Cuba's largest supplier. Given Cuba's close proximity to the U.S., it stands to reason that American farmers could capitalize on the opportunity that normalized trade relations would create.

USW and NAWG will continue long standing efforts to promote full normalization of US/Cuba trade relations resulting in enhanced agricultural trade and new exports of US origin wheat.

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