Over the past year, U.S. and Cuba relationship is gradually warming up. While this is a good start, American business leaders are still waiting for a breakthrough on the economic front.

The need to achieve a greater opening between the two countries commercially but also supporting and advancing the values that we care about is immediate.

The time is right.

After having had no relationship at all with Cuba for more than 50 years, we have reopened embassies, eased travel requirements, and liberalized some restrictions on commercial activities. During the past year, congressional delegations and our secretaries of state, commerce and agriculture all traveled to Cuba on official visits.

In fact, policymakers and the public alike have indicated a willingness and desire to end a half-century of embargo and reestablish relations with Cuba. By all indications, the United States is on the cusp of a new era of trade relations with the island nation.

The U.S. food and agriculture communities in particular are looking forward to the day when both countries will have access to new, high-demand markets only 90 miles away. For U.S. agricultural and food businesses, the prospect of normal relations means a huge nearby trade opportunity. For Cuba, the rollback of barriers heralds a new era of economic vitality and a better life for Cuban citizens.

There is a growing bipartisan consensus among lawmakers that the days of the longstanding trade embargo are numbered, and bills that advance pieces of this objective are moving along, although gradually, through both houses.

Nothing worthwhile is easy. However, while Congress debates, America’s competitors thrive.

Right now, as grain leaves U.S. Gulf ports for destinations around the world, trade restrictions prevent it from going to an obvious market just across the Gulf. And those same restrictions prevent Cuban agricultural products from reaching our shores.

As a result, other nations thousands of miles away—Brazil, Canada, Argentina and European Union countries, to name a few—satisfy Cuban demand for grain and other agricultural and food products, even though American producers and companies hold clear advantages in price, proximity, quality, service and innovation.

Congress has the power to lift the outdated embargo restrictions that hinder two-way trade between the two countries. The United States wants to export—and Cuba wants to buy—commodities such as rice, wheat, corn, chicken and grains, to name a few. And Cuba, for its part, can satisfy growing U.S. demand for organic fruits and vegetables, coffee and farmed seafood, as well as traditional products like Cuban sugar and rum. Take the example of wheat. The amount of wheat that Cuba could buy would equal about 10 percent of the Wheat State's total production. This in a year that we have extra grain stored on the ground across Kansas would benefit both.

But current financing restrictions require Cuba to pay for agricultural products in cash or using third-party financing. And while the administration in recent weeks has taken steps to allow U.S. banks to finance certain kinds of trade with Cuba, food and agriculture are excluded—and remain the only industries that must seek credit from non-U.S. banks. Likewise, the ability of U.S. companies to provide badly needed investment in Cuban agriculture faces regulatory hurdles that have long outlived their original purpose.

And it’s not just barriers to financing and investment. U.S. consumers will not see Cuban produce in our markets until Congress lifts current restrictions on carriers that prevent products exported from Cuba from docking at U.S. ports for six months—a measure which effectively blocks Cuban agricultural products from gracing our tables.

The bottom line is this: Cuba—with 11 million consuming citizens only 90 miles off our coast—is a stunningly logical market for U.S. food and agriculture exports. We are natural trading partners. Normalizing trade relations between our two countries will enhance Cuban citizens’ access to affordable food while providing the U.S. farm and business community with a wide range of new market opportunities.

We must do our part to make it happen.

The time to act is now. The need is immediate.

Doug Keesling is a farmer and owner of Keesling Farms. He is also the state council chairman of the US Agriculture Coalition for Cuba.

(1) comment

Babette Plana

The embargo will not be lifted until its stipulations are honored by the Castro dictatorship. Obama's Cuba policy violates the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, and is therefore, unlawful. Obama's policy is also immoral because it finances the Castro military and abets the repression of pro-democracy activists on the island. All tourism and business money goes directly to Castros' military and solidifies the totalitarian system of governance. The ordinary Cuban does not benefit. The author of this article is very uninformed about Cuba's reality. U.S. exports to Cuba have exponentially decreased from a high of 800 million annually to less than 150 million dollars today. Why? The Cuban regime is trying to pressure the U.S. Congress into lifting the embargo. Why does the regime want the embargo lifted? So they can fleece the U.S. taxpayer out of billions of dollars when they inevitably default on loans. The Castros are murderous, corrupt, dishonest deadbeats. Historically, they have never paid their debts to any nation for the past 57 years. U.S. citizens can thank the embargo for sparing them the financial grief other nations have had to endure. The European Union, Japan, and Russia have had to write off billions of dollars in debts that the Castros never made good on.

Don't be deceived. Conditions in Cuba are very bad. Obama's Cuba policy failed even before it was conceived. Unfortunately, Obama, like previous presidents, has decided to legitimize and support a loathsome dictatorship. He has betrayed Cuba's dissidents and the values of freedom and democracy. Disgraceful. I shed tears every night for the enslaved Cubans. The actions of Obama and his collaborators will keep Cubans enslaved for decades to come barring a miracle.

Read and become informed Do not be deceived:

http://www.bakersfield.com/opinion/thinking-about-a-vacation-in-cuba-don-t/article_debd88b5-972b-5c26-90a3-d03edcd51269.html

Freedom for Cuba! Justice for the Cuban people!

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