Vilsack to try for Cuba office through appropriations
In announcing the Obama administration’s proposed agricultural budget today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Visack said that the United States should open an agricultural office in Cuba, and that he hopes to get the money for it through the 2017 Agriculture appropriations bill.
Vilsack will give remarks at the National Press Club on Wednesday at the anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba.
The provision, Vilsack said, “is to alert Congress that there is an expanded trade opportunity in Cuba. We believe that having people in Cuba would facilitate opportunities now and in the future.”
“I don’t think we have the authority absent such direction from Congress to fund the personnel,” he added. “That is why we are asking for this in the appropriations process.”
Asked whether the office would be headed by a Foreign Agricultural Service attaché or counselor, Vilsack said he could not state specifically how many people would be needed to staff an office in Cuba or what their classifications would be.
He did not answer a question about whether establishing the office would mean that Cuba would open a counterpart office in Washington.
Vilsack noted that Cuba imports 80 percent of its food, and that before the embargo used to get most of its imported food from the United States. The big U.S. exports to Cuba occurred before the 1959 Cuban revolution.
Cuba began importing food from the United States again in 2000 when Congress passed a law that exempted agricultural exports from the general U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba and travel to the island.
President Barack Obama’s budget includes a provision calling for the establishment of a USDA “in-country presence in Cuba.”
The USDA fact sheet on the budget contains the following paragraph:
“Agriculture will play an important role as the U.S. and Cuba expand relations, acting as a bridge that can foster cooperation, understanding, and the exchange of ideas.”
“USDA needs an in-country presence in Cuba to cultivate key relationships, gain firsthand knowledge of the country’s agricultural challenges and opportunities, and develop programs for the mutual benefit of both countries.
“U.S. agricultural exports have grown significantly since trade was authorized in 2000. In FY 2014, Cuba imported over $2 billion in agricultural products including $300 million from the United States, and an in-country presence will capitalize on opportunities this nearby market provides for U.S. agricultural exporters.”
The fact sheet did not state how much the office would cost.
–The Hagstrom Report
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