WASHINGTON (B)--With Cuba expected to buy 400,000 tonnes of rice this year, the U.S. Rice Growers Association is calling for an end to the U.S. embargo of food sales to the island republic so that U.S. rice farmers can take part in Cuba's $2 billion rice purchases.

"In the four decades since the fall of the Batista government, nine U.S. presidents have tried and failed to end Castro's rule through the use of unilateral sanctions," association Chief Executive Officer Dennis DeLaughter said during a forum here sponsored by the World Policy Institute.

"It is time to acknowledge, however laudable the goal, our unilateral sanctions policy has been a complete failure. Despite our determined loyalty to this 40 year-old policy, the chains of tyranny remain in place," DeLaughter said.

DeLaughter echoed the debate on permanent normal trade relations with China by saying trade "helps promote democratization efforts in closed economies."

The U.S. Rice Growers Association represents several thousand U.S. rice farmers in Texas, Arkansas, California, Mississippi and Missouri.

Cuba was a significant market for U.S. rice prior to the embargo, which was imposed in the early 1960s. Recently, the Cuban government said it would immediately buy 50,000 tonnes of U.S. rice if the embargo were lifted.

Efforts to end the trade ban, included in fiscal 2001 agriculture appropriations bills, are stalled in the both the House and the Senate, where they face tough opposition from conservative Republicans and Cuban-American members of Congress.

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