Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Chairman K. Michael Conaway: Committee on Agriculture Hearing: American Agricultural Trade with Cuba

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Washington, September 14, 2016 | comments

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

The United States has a long and complicated relationship with our neighbor to the south. While our close proximity to Cuba makes the island nation a natural trading partner, the stranglehold the Castro regime has had on Cuba has long prevented normalized relations between our two countries.

That stranglehold resulted in the United States imposing an embargo on trade with Cuba that has been in place in various forms for almost 60 years. In 2000, the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act—known as TSRA, authorized certain sales of food, medicines, and medical equipment to Cuba subject to various restrictions on credit and financing. One such restriction requires Cuba to pay cash in advance for purchases, interpreted in 2005 by the Bush Administration to mean payment in cash before shipment of goods.

In December 2014, amongst a host of other changes, the Obama Administration announced its intention to modify the cash-in-advance provisions to require payment before transfer of title.  While that move was generally applauded, I—and many of my colleagues—believe the U.S. secured too little in return for the litany of other concessions made to the brutal regime that continues to remain in power. The Castro regime remains one of the world’s most oppressive human rights violators. Their heavy hand is in everything—including agriculture—where ALIMPORT remains the sole entity allowed to trade in agricultural products with foreign entities.

Against this sobering backdrop, I believe there lays an opportunity—albeit a rather narrow one—to make changes that will positively benefit both agricultural producers here at home while contributing to economic growth in Cuba. To that end, our colleague and General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee Chairman Rick Crawford authored the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (or H.R. 3687) which lifts the financing restrictions under TSRA while providing for both market promotion and U.S. agribusiness investment under strict safeguards. The Committee was involved in the development of that bill, and both Ranking Member Peterson and I are co-sponsors. 

While I am very hopeful that we can find a path forward on expanding agricultural trade with Cuba, I remain firmly opposed to lifting the embargo or restrictions on travel. We are dealing with a regime that cares about little more than ensuring its own perpetuity and prosperity. That being said, I think we all look forward to the day when the United States enjoys full, normalized relations with Cuba. 

I also realize that this is an issue where good folks will disagree—often quite passionately. That generally applies to both proponents and opponents of expanding agricultural trade with Cuba alike. My intention today is to have a respectful, constructive dialogue with the goal of exploring common ground. With that, I thank our witnesses for being here today, and I recognize Ranking Member Peterson for any comments he would like to make.

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