U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) today requested that President Obama make changes to current trade regulations that unnecessarily restrict sales of U.S. agricultural commodities to Cuba. This request is in response to the Obama Administration's recent announcement of changes to U.S.-Cuba travel policy.
"While I support the recent announcement of changes to U.S.-Cuba travel policy, I am disappointed President Obama did not make executive changes to existing U.S. regulations that restrict the cash sale of agriculture products to Cuba," Sen. Moran said. "Despite the failure to order changes to current regulations, I hope the president will make such changes in the coming months. Policy changes to current rules governing U.S. cash agricultural sales to Cuba are widely supported and would result in an estimated $270 million in new exports."
Sen. Moran has long fought for common sense changes to U.S. trade policy with Cuba -- only 90 miles away -- in order to open up more markets for American farmers. In October 2010, then-Congressman Moran joined Congressman Collin Peterson (D-MN) -- then-Chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee -- in requesting that President Obama repeal U.S. Department of Treasury regulations that restrict access of U.S. farmers and ranchers to Cuban markets.
Cuba must import nearly 85 percent of its food and current U.S. trade policies hurt American farmers and ranchers by making it more expensive for Cuba to purchase U.S. agriculture products. Instead of buying U.S. commodities, current policy encourages Cuba to buy its food from countries such as Vietnam and China.
Simple changes to U.S. trade policy with Cuba, such as lifting the prohibition on direct cash payments from a Cuban buyer to the bank of a U.S. seller of agricultural products, would increase export sales and create thousands of American jobs without increasing the debt. Additionally, changing the definition of "cash in advance" to mean payment upon delivery, rather than payment before ships leave U.S. harbors, would make the term consistent with prevalent international trade standards.
In February 2010, then-Congressman Moran and Congressman Peterson introduced -- and the House Agriculture Committee passed -- H.R. 4645, legislation to expand agricultural trade with Cuba. Nearly 150 U.S. organizations have voiced their strong support for doing so, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Farmers Union. The changes to agricultural trade rules sought by then-Congressman Moran in H.R. 4645 are similar to the regulatory changes he is currently requesting from the president.
Included below is a copy of the letter Sen. Moran sent to President Obama today.
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President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama:
Thank you for recent policy changes you announced on January 14, 2010, to allow greater contact between U.S. citizens and the Cuban people. I support changes to Treasury, State, and Homeland Security Department regulations that will allow U.S. citizens greater ability for academic, religious, and cultural travel to Cuba. Such people-to-people contact will only work to increase Cuban exposure to democratic principles and hasten positive governmental changes in Cuba.
I have long backed total repeal of existing restrictions that generally prohibit the right of most Americans to travel to Cuba. Cuba is the only country in the world to which the U.S. government denies its citizens the right to travel. I realize that full repeal of the travel ban must be done by Congress, but your recent announcement to increase the categories of exceptions to the general travel ban is a step in the right direction.
While I support your recent announcement on changes to U.S./Cuba travel policy, I am disappointed you did not make executive changes to existing U.S. regulations that restrict the cash sale of agricultural products to Cuba. Unlike full repeal of the travel ban, lifting the prohibition on direct cash payments from a Cuban buyer to the bank of a U.S. seller of agricultural products can be achieved administratively. Likewise, administratively changing the definition of "cash in advance" to mean payment upon delivery, instead of payment before ships leave U.S. harbors, would make the term consistent with prevalent international trade standards and increase U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba.
As you may recall, on October 12, 2010, I and ten of my colleagues from the House Committee on Agriculture wrote and asked you to include these two changes in any new regulatory changes to U.S. travel policy with Cuba. I was saddened to see that these modest, widely supported regulatory changes to restore the original intent of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 were not included in your announcement last Friday.
I would emphasize that although full repeal of the travel ban is controversial with some members of Congress, changes to allow direct cash payments for purchases of agricultural commodities and reform the current definition of payment of cash in advance are widely supported. Last March, during a hearing held by the House Committee on Agriculture to review U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba, then Ranking Member, and now Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, Frank Lucas stated: "[O]ur priorities should be finding a way to increase agricultural exports to help meet the food needs of the Cuban people . . . ." Despite his objection to full repeal of the travel ban, Representative Lucas also stated to the second panel of witnesses: "[Y]ou will find that most of us on this Committee want . . . producers to have an opportunity to do their business and to demonstrate their economic efficiency."
This general sentiment carried forward to the business meeting on June 30, 2010, when the House Committee on Agriculture approved H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act. Many of the Committee Republicans and some Democrats could not support full repeal of the travel ban, but nearly all members agreed they could support changes to the current rules concerning direct cash payments for agricultural commodities and the definition of payment of cash in advance.
Despite the failure to order changes to current regulations that unnecessarily restrict sales of U.S. agricultural commodities to Cuba in last Friday's announcement, I hope that you and your administration are examining whether such changes can be made in the coming months. I hope that you will respond to this letter and explain whether you can support making the above described changes to current regulations governing agricultural sales to Cuba. If you are supportive, I look forward to working with you to make those changes happen. If you do not support such changes, I hope that you can explain the reasons for your opposition to such widely supported regulatory changes.