Heitkamp urges Cuba to purchase more ND commodities
October 2, 2015
U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp pressed Castro to purchase more U.S. agricultural exports, which would help North Dakota farmers who rely on exports for their bottom line.
Castro was in New York on Friday to participate in the United Nations General Assembly. It was the first time in 15 years that a Cuban leader visited the United States.
Heitkamp was invited to the meeting – one of Castro's first with American lawmakers since the U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic ties – because of her efforts to expand exports of U.S. agricultural commodities to Cuba, a country with high demand for North Dakota crops like dry beans, peas, and lentils. In April, she introduced a bipartisan bill to make it easier for U.S. exporters to offer financing for agricultural exports into Cuba. The bill followed Heitkamp's visit to Cuba in February 2014 during which she met with Cuban agricultural trade officials to discuss bilateral economic benefits of expanding agricultural exports from North Dakota and the U.S. to Cuba.
"As a new chapter begins in U.S.-Cuba relations, I was proud to advocate for North Dakota farmers during an in-person meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro. Cuba is a prime market for our state's producers, and I'm doing everything I can to make sure our farmers can access it," said Heitkamp. "Our state's crops like black beans, peas, and lentils are in high demand in Cuba, making it the perfect market for North Dakota producers whose bottom lines depend on exports. That's why, in April, I introduced a bipartisan bill to support and expand the export of crops to Cuba and visited the Cuba in 2014 to discuss agricultural exports. There's no reason for Cuba to buy from Canada or Southeast Asia rather than from North Dakota farmers."
After Heitkamp introduced the Agricultural Export Expansion Act with Republican Senator John Boozman from Arkansas in April, the bill passed in the Senate Appropriations Committee in July – the final step before a vote in the full Senate.
For well over a year, Heitkamp has pushed to improve agricultural export opportunities to Cuba and make it easier for farmers to sell their crops – particularly pulse crops grown in North Dakota – to this high-demand market. The biggest barrier that agricultural exporters in North Dakota and throughout the United States have faced when trying to export to Cuba is a legal prohibition on providing credit for exports to Cuba. Heitkamp's bipartisan legislation would modify current law, lift the ban on private banks and companies offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba, and help level the playing field for exporters in North Dakota and across the country.
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Currently, all U.S. exports to Cuba require cash up front, while other nations around the world offer credit to Cuban importers, essentially preventing farmers and ranchers from being able to ship their products to Cuba. Heitkamp's bill would remove the top barrier facing U.S. exporters of agricultural products to Cuba by changing a provision in current law that prohibits financing of exports to Cuba.
North Dakota is the 9th largest agriculture exporting state in the country, with an estimated $4.1 billion in commodities sold each year in foreign markets. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, North Dakota agricultural exports support about 27,000 jobs. Last December, Heitkamp highlighted how federal action that was taken would help support agricultural exports for North Dakota farmers. Additionally, she noted how the change in U.S.-Cuba policy would also support North Dakota's economy and provide at least some relief to low American commodity prices by opening new markets.