The Trump administration’s plan to roll back policy initiatives between the United States and Cuba is a missed opportunity for the country and a substantive blow to potentially lucrative markets here in Idaho.
What you may have missed from the news reporting on this issue is that bipartisan support for improved trade relations with Cuba is alive and well. It is our opinion that together, Idaho Democrats and Republicans can cultivate a healthy economic relationship with Cuba that will prove fruitful to all Idahoans. That’s why we are working to advance this critical issue.
The opportunities that exist in Cuba for Idaho businesses are significant. Consider the fact that presently, Cuba imports 60 to 80 percent of its food, a market estimated at $2 billion. That means that farmers and suppliers of fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy goods and countless other necessities currently enjoy access to this large and sustainable market. The problem is, virtually none of our American farmers are profiting from that due to the restrictive nature of the current U.S. trade embargo with Cuba.
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Clearly, if there’s one thing that Idahoans know, it’s agriculture. Imagine the possibilities for our state to expand its global reach and serve as a leader in exports of our high-quality goods to the island. Again, that market figure is $2 billion. To capture just a slice of that pie would produce strong returns for our state and put more people to work.
We need relations with Cuba, especially in trade, to advance, not regress. We recognize that, and so do many other influential Idaho politicians, businesses, religious groups, universities and others who comprise the Engage Cuba Idaho State Council. This group is a coalition chaired by Gov. Butch Otter that is actively lobbying Congress to lift the trade embargo. Regardless of affiliation, profession or background, we all share the same interest in serving Idahoans as best we can. In this case, we wholeheartedly believe that working with Cuba, rather than shutting it out, is the right thing to do.
Agriculture isn’t the only arena in which Idahoans can benefit. The technology and communications sector is able to invest in Cuba today thanks to a policy exception called “Support for the Cuban People.” This exception allows companies to provide Cubans with phones and tablets, as well as internet access, infrastructure and other related services critical to business and communication needs. Imagine the opportunities for Idaho’s blossoming tech sector, led by Micron and HP and startups such as Cradlepoint, Kount, Because International and others. Helping to construct a communications grid in a developing nation is no easy task, but Idaho tech companies and professionals possess the knowledge, experience and solutions to get the job done.
Doing what’s right for each other is what Idahoans do, and doing what’s right for Idaho is what we and the coalition aim to do. Together, we can continue to position our state as a leader in the evolving global economy.
Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, is the Democratic minority leader and represents District 19 in the Idaho House. Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, represents District 4 in the Idaho House. Both are serving their third terms in the Legislature.