Saturday, September 12, 2015

Arkansas rice farmer urges U.S. to lift Cuba trade restrictions

Posted By on Sat, Sep 12, 2015 at 9:42 AM

ARKANSAS RICE: Not bound for Cuba anytime soon. - KUAR
  • KUAR
  • ARKANSAS RICE: Not bound for Cuba anytime soon.

McClatchy visits with Joe Mencer,
an Arkansas rice farmer eager to begin exporting his crop to Cuba, if the terms of the U.S.'s trade embargo would allow it.

Total time from Mencer’s rice fields to Havana would be about a week – less than 1,000 miles down the Mississippi and across the Gulf of Mexico.

These days, however, Cuba’s rice generally comes from Vietnam – some 11,000 shipping miles, and six weeks, away.

“I’m 55 years old. This is my 34th rice crop,” Mencer said as he looked from atop the levee toward the Mississippi. “I keep hoping I’ll be able to sell some of it to Cuba before I retire.”

Right now, the chance of that happening is uncertain, despite the Obama administration’s opening to Cuba.

The article mentions that U.S. Sen. John Boozman and Gov. Asa Hutchinson, both Republicans, are in support of President Obama when it comes to the issue of opening up to Cuba. That's because of the clear benefits to Arkansas agriculture that access to the Cuban market would entail.

McClatchy does not mention, however, Arkansas's other U.S. senator, Tom Cotton, who has said restoring diplomatic relations with the nation is "a grave mistake," which is of a piece with his other foreign policy prerogatives: confrontation and provocation wherever possible.

On Cuba, Cotton said in July, "Rest assured, I will work to maintain and increase sanctions on the [Cuban] regime."

The McClatchy story also includes a quote from the governor and some details on what proponents of increased Cuba trade are seeking:

Per-capita rice consumption in Cuba is significantly higher than in the U.S. Cubans – at least a long time ago – liked American rice: The U.S. Department of Agriculture noted in a June report that “consumers in pre-revolutionary Cuba generally liked the taste, appearance and cooking qualities of U.S. rice varieties and were willing to pay a premium for them.”

One effort underway in Congress seeks to energize agriculture sales by easing the rules against the use of credit. It’s a tactic that has won the support of many farm-state lawmakers, including Republicans generally opposed to the president’s foreign policy.

In Arkansas, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson was once a congressman who supported the Cuban trade embargo. But later this month he’ll travel to Cuba, seeking business for his state. He thinks credit sales should be allowed.

“You get out in the farmland of America and they say, ‘What we’ve been doing for the last 50 years has not been effective. Let’s try something different,’” he said in an interview.

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