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Leaders to Washington push aggressive U.S. trade agenda

March 15, 2010

Illinois Farm Bureau Leaders to Washington pushed for an aggressive U.S. trade agenda on their whirlwind visit last week to Capitol Hill.

Farm leaders from across the state asked for Congress to ratify three pending free trade agreements with Columbia, Panama, and South Korea.   They also requested their elected officials cosponsor a bill (H.R. 4645) to open up agricultural sales and travel to the nearby island nation of Cuba.

I attended a hearing last Thursday in the House Agriculture Committee where AFBF President Bob Stallman testified in favor of the Cuba bill which would not end the Cuban trade embargo, but loosen up five-year old rules that inhibit agricultural sales. 

Cuba would still be required to pay for U.S. agricultural exports in cash but cumbersome rules requiring payment through a third country bank would be lifted:

Currently, Cuba must wire payments for U.S. goods through a third country bank in order for U.S. banks to receive the cash for the U.S. product to be delivered. This process comes with a high fee for handling the transaction, increasing the cost of purchasing agricultural goods from the United States. Having to go through a third country bank puts U.S. products at a disadvantage to those of our competitors. While U.S. telecommunications companies are authorized to receive payments directly from their Cuban counterparts, U.S. agriculture is singled out by law for the expensive, unnecessary and discriminatory requirement that payments must flow through foreign banks.

The bill would also provide visas for Cuban agricultural inspectors and grant U.S. citizens the right to travel freely in Cuba.  

Thanks to Reps.  Tim Johnson and Bobby Rush for their cosponsorship of the bill.  

Kansas Republican Jerry Moran made an impassioned speech in the committee in support of a bill that would open the door for the U.S. to capture as much as two-thirds of a $1.8 billion market.   The current rules practically hand the Cuban market to Canada, Brazil, and others.

With our proximity to Cuba, our transportation system, and the fact that corn, wheat, and oilseeds are in high demand, it makes sense to support this legislation that would leave the 50-year old embargo in place. 

At the hearing, Rep. Debbie Halvorson expressed reservations about the portions of the bill that would promote travel to Cuba.

Let’s help our elected officials understand that they don’t represent Miami, FL and send a message that we need expanded agricultural sales and travel to Cuba.

President Obama also repeated last week his goal to double U.S. exports over the next five years as part of a National Export Initiative.

We’ll create public-private partnerships to help firms break into new markets with the help of those who have been there –- shipping and supply-chain companies, for example.  And we’ll increase funding for existing promotion efforts.  We’ll increase funding for the International Trade Administration at the Department of Commerce, and strengthen the USDA’s ability to connect farmers with new overseas markets.

So we’re going to increase financing, advocacy, and assistance for American businesses to locate, set up shop, and win new markets.  Those are the first three aims of the National Export Initiative.

The fourth focuses on making sure American companies have free and fair access to those markets.  And that begins by enforcing trade agreements we already have on the books.

The idea of U.S. trade policy being at a crossroads was well captured in a recent story in the New York Times.  

The administration’s official 2010 trade agenda is outlined in U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk’s March 1 report to Congress.

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