Cuba changes could benefit farmers

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NATIONAL – Thawing relations between the United States and Cuba could benefit Illinois’ agricultural industry, according to a senator and congresswoman from the state who accompanied President Obama on his Cuba visit this week.

Senator Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos said Cuba has a $2 billion a year agriculture market that U.S. farmers could take part in.

“We have … a huge trade opportunity when it comes to agriculture,” Bustos said. “There was a time not too long ago where about 50 percent of the commodities that were imported to Cuba were from the United States. Now it’s about 10 percent."

Durbin suggested opening trade between the two countries could benefit farmers in both.

“We can sell them corn, soybeans, rice, meat, and a lot of things they need. They can sell back organic food that we can use,” Durbin said, referring to the availability of produce grown without pesticides or other chemicals in Cuba.

Bustos also said that Cuba could be an important new market for manufacturers of heavy machinery like John Deere and Caterpillar, and Bustos said she has introduced legislation that would help Cubans buy machinery on credit.

Still, Durbin acknowledged that some in Congress, particularly Senate Republican leaders, may prevent approval of new agreements with Cuba. U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, who has visited Cuba twice, said Cuban officials may also be reluctant to agree to trade with the U.S.

“The Cuban people have been told virtually for a generation and a half that every social ill that affects the Cuban economy is the American embargo's fault,” Davis said. “So if the American embargo is lifted and society in Cuba doesn't get any better, which it will not under a Communist regime, they're afraid they're going to lose power."

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